This year telehealth was thrust into the forefront as health systems scrambled to react to the growing coronavirus pandemic. In virtually every COVID-19 War Room across the nation, healthcare organizations sought new ways to safely engage COVID patients and those self-isolating at home. For most, that meant quickly standing up or scaling existing programs to support growing demand for virtual care solutions.

This sudden increase in demand resulted in many healthcare providers resorting to stop-gap solutions just to get something in place. Many health systems are now juggling an array of siloed telehealth programs and solutions implemented when the pandemic struck that don’t have the flexibility, reliability and workflow dynamics suitable for the long term. By developing a strategy to centralize and consolidate virtual care operations, healthcare organizations can derive maximum value from telehealth resources and intelligently support future program expansion.

Use the Quadruple Aim to guide you

Most healthcare organizations are driving towards the Quadruple Aim:

  • Improve the Patient Experience
  • Improve the Clinician Experience
  • Improve Patient Outcomes
  • Reduce Cost and Consolidate Vendors

Telehealth is a powerful tool to improve access to care, streamline clinical workflows and control costs, but those savings can be offset by investment redundancies if there isn’t a focus on an overall strategy.

Many of the telehealth initiatives launched pre-pandemic were rooted in department-specific programs such as tele-stroke and tele-ICU. In the wake of the coronavirus, we saw an immediate need for virtual care resources that could support engagement efforts across the continuum of care. Many health systems have since pivoted to add new facets to digital care delivery, including the roll out of:

  • Remote employee health screenings to clear healthcare staff for work
  • Virtual visits to connect clinicians with non-emergent patients at home
  • Virtual observation to safely care for inpatients while limiting virus exposure
  • Mobile telehealth carts to support safe care delivery in EDs and pop-up sites
  • Smart device fleets to connect patients and families amid visitation restrictions

As the first wave of COVID hit, many of these programs were rolled out quickly as a reactive measure to help healthcare organizations get by. Now that we have reached a “new normal” in how healthcare is handled, virtual care has become a critical component in treating COVID-19 patients and other patients who do not want to visit a physical office. This provides a great opportunity for health systems to develop a strategy for how to operate in this new paradigm.

Centralizing telehealth operations

With any strategic planning, it is important to identify the current state, the desired state and the associated gaps between the current and desired states. It is equally important to consider the Quadruple Aim and include stakeholders from all of the critical components to ensure your strategy encompasses feedback from the various perspectives.

The sudden and rapid increase in demand during the pandemic exposed the failings of dedicated, hardware-based solutions. Health systems that leveraged cloud-based telehealth infrastructure were able to quickly scale without investments in hardware. Cloud-based platforms create a centralized operations hub for program expansion across the healthcare continuum. These platforms significantly reduce implementation timelines, as well as the resources required to maintain and update telehealth systems. Web-based solutions accessible via desktop, laptop, or mobile devices also bolster the flexibility of programs. A unified, enterprise-wide platform allows health systems to integrate stand-alone solutions to eliminate resource redundancies, as well as access comprehensive insight into utilization analytics.

Data is a critical factor in assessing the effectiveness of and adoption of your virtual care programs. Cloud-based telehealth solutions should include broad data capture and reporting in order to help organizations see the impact of their telehealth programs and overall utilization trends.

Finally, security is a critical factor that was missing in many telehealth stop-gap solutions. Look for a platform that supports single sign-on and dual-factor authentication, as well as integration with the leading EHRs and peripheral systems such as language support modules and mobile device management systems. Leverage mobile endpoints to support patient surge wherever it’s needed, reducing investment redundancies across departments.

Moving ahead with confidence

In 2020 we have seen validation of telehealth under the most extreme circumstances, fueled by ongoing public health concern and a long-running need for more innovative and convenient care paths. Whether you are replacing an existing solution, scaling existing programs, or just diving in for the first time, a centralized telehealth operations model is essential to meeting the evolving needs of patients and providers while maintaining virtual system security and integrity.

Learn how Caregility can help you create a centralized telehealth operations model with our overview brochure.