Telehealth has been majorly beneficial to millions of patients and providers throughout the pandemic. To continue being efficient and delivering results, however, virtual care must evolve quickly. Healthcare organizations will need to implement telehealth for use cases beyond the reactive video-only model they’ve grown used to during COVID. Now, there is an innate need for telehealth to encompass a broader range of conditions and contexts across the whole care continuum.
Healthcare leaders can ensure telehealth continues to provide value into the future by pairing it with data-driven devices. With proper integration, devices like EKGs, ultrasounds, stethoscopes, and more can provide valuable data, audio, and video in live sessions. This elevated virtual approach will mean physicians can diagnose patients with more accuracy and extend care to higher-acuity patients.
Challenges of Device Integration in Telehealth
Of course, integrating more devices into telehealth services doesn’t come without significant hurdles. Healthcare leaders will likely encounter a few common challenges.
First of all, many current health information systems don’t work very well together. Systems typically include electronic medical records along with practice management systems, remote patient monitoring, vendor-neutral archives, and more. If these existing systems can’t communicate seamlessly with one another, how can organizations integrate new devices on top of them in meaningful ways? It would be incredibly difficult. Instead, ensure that the health information systems you already have in place can support standardized communication protocols and data formats before integrating new devices.
Another challenge worth noting comes down to device fragmentation — or having too many devices with the same functionality. Having too many methods to reach the same outcomes will only complicate troubleshooting and increase opportunities for failure. Evaluate whether you have redundant devices in place before adding new ones to your ecosystem. If you do find that a new device works better than one you already had in place, consider replacing the old one completely instead of just putting the new one in place alongside it.
How to Create Technology Ecosystems for Greater Device Integration
Though hurdles do exist, it is possible to overcome and even avoid these challenges with the right preparations. In the end, realizing the full potential of telehealth now and into the future will be well worth the initial effort.
1. Take a close look at your existing ecosystem.
If you haven’t already, create a network map detailing each information system currently in your stack. For each system, note which devices could integrate with it and which communication protocols could be supported. This map will allow you to see the gaps in your network where you will need to add or replace technology.
Be sure to account for disparate systems that might exist in different care venues. How do these satellite systems feed into your core ecosystem? From here, you can properly plan to update, upgrade, augment, or replace proprietary systems with standards-based options before they hinder future integrations.
2. Get everyone on the same page from the get-go.
To begin evolving your telehealth ecosystem, assemble a council of key stakeholders, including representatives from IT, information security, compliance, health informatics, and clinical practitioners specific to the applications and use case settings for your telehealth systems.
Your council of stakeholders should work together to define the need, desired solution, use cases, budget, and success criteria in a formal requirements document. The document will then provide a road map for the transition. It’s a big step that will require many voices, but skipping it risks wasting time, money, and low adoption due to misaligned expectations.
3. Choose the right devices.
Once you have assessed your existing ecosystem and you have your requirements document, it’s time to choose the right technologies to implement. With a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s interoperability capabilities and limitations, as well as the specific use case requirements for a successful solution, you should be able to eliminate a lot of ineligible devices from the start.
From there, it can be helpful to build a matrix of relevant features, and rank your remaining options based on how they score in that matrix. Starting at the top of the list, perform a brief preliminary evaluation of each vendor. An abbreviated version of Carter’s 10 C’s evaluation method would work well. Whittle your list down to three best-in-class devices from three best-in-class vendors, and request demo units of each device. Run each device through identical tests and record your results. If any device fails to meet expectations, replace it with the next best from the list, and continue to do so until you find the top candidate.
To drive revenue and maintain patient relationships in the future, providers will need to evolve telehealth solutions to integrate with medical devices at the point of care. But many hospitals don’t yet have the technology infrastructure to support this augmentation. Fortunately, healthcare leaders can help by crafting an operational ecosystem primed to support the telehealth evolution.
About John Baker