If there have been any positives coming from the Covid-19 pandemic, the public’s acceptance of telehealth services has got to be one of the biggest. And, while we all wish it weren’t a pandemic that propelled telehealth into the mainstream, it’s clear it is now center stage, and for a good reason.
Is telehealth here to stay?
Why? Telemedicine is a safe and secure way for patients to meet with doctors for consultation from their homes’ comfort. Patients generally access a secure link from a smartphone, tablet, or laptop during the visit, and a doctor can see them via videoconference. Telemedicine services are also a cost-effective and efficient way to serve customers and provide a high-quality experience. Just how mainstream has it become? In a recent survey, while only 25% of consumer respondents had used telehealth before COVID-19 59%, they were more likely to use telehealth services now than previously, and 33% would even leave their current physician for an office offers telehealth access.
Establishing a health IT infrastructure
For their part, the FCC established a $200M COVID-19 Telehealth Program to help healthcare providers build telemedicine programs. The goal is to assist healthcare providers in establishing telehealth IT frameworks and to make virtual doctor visits more accessible to patients in rural communities. But, just as in any industry, building a technology infrastructure is no easy feat.
So if you’re a healthcare provider and you’re looking to expand your services into telehealth, what are your first steps? At CTG, we recommend building a telemedicine plan and focusing on your network first. Let’s dive into what a health IT plan looks like in more detail.
- Outline your goals, build a strategy from there – Most organizations prioritize telehealth to achieve specific business imperatives. That may be increasing access to services, attracting new patients, improving patient outcomes, and reducing the total cost of care. Whatever your primary objectives are, get buy-in from executives and those responsible for operations. Clear goals and a singular underlying organizational strategy will ultimately lead to a more effective program.
- Stepping up your IT infrastructure – To work correctly, providers require a high-speed, high-quality network infrastructure to support current and future applications. Sometimes this means relying on a co-managed IT partner or turning to managed IaaS services. This offloads the burden of managing IT resources and enables organizations to improve network uptime, ensure adequate disaster recovery and business continuity plans, and benefit from the highest security and compliance levels.
- Make connectivity a priority and set up built-in redundancy – Do you need connectivity for a single location? Or do you need a private network that spans across multiple sites? You may consider moving to a software-defined WAN to reduce WAN complexity and add connection diversity. Because SD-WAN supports other connection types, it has built-in redundancy, and it can generally reduce WAN costs, offer better performance, and increased security options.
- Build security into everything – Maintaining high network security levels and ensuring patient confidentiality is critical with any telehealth program. Premise or cloud-based firewall protection ensures healthcare organizations can defend against network attacks and threats without compromising network performance.
- Don’t forget about support – The truth is even one dropped virtual health call is too many – for both providers and patients. For providers consider offering an in-person training and, as the program matures, perhaps moving to an on-demand online model. Continuous virtual or in-person technical support will also help healthcare teams be prepared and confident they can recover if something goes awry. On the patient-side, offer FAQs, technical support, and workflow for getting patients logged on successfully before any appointment. Consider test calls to ensure individuals are ready for upcoming visits.
Today’s climate – where individuals are quick to embrace remote and virtual connections – is a perfect time for healthcare providers to build their telehealth programs. Getting there means having buy-in and strategic support from organizational stakeholders and bolstering your IT infrastructure. Do you have other best practices to share? Or, do you need help planning infrastructure upgrades? Or putting a quick telehealth action-plan together to prepare your network? Call or email us! CTG is ready to build out your IT health infrastructure so you can attract new patients, improve patient care, and reduce costs. Let’s do this together!