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Why hospitals still struggle to sell telehealth

Brian Eastwood | Aug. 5, 2014
Telehealth stands among the healthcare industry's few technology success stories. It brings virtual care to underserved or remote locations. It gives facilities an opportunity to export expertise or, conversely, outsource costly operations. It cuts costs for healthcare systems as well as patients.

In addition, there's the "swag" element, says Dr. Sarah N. Pletcher, medical director of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center's telehealth center, which was founded in 2012 to provide acute care telehealth, ambulatory efficiency and collaboration services. Giving doctors new iPads and webcams in conjunction with telehealth initiatives will boost enthusiasm for the program, she says.

Practical, Regulatory Barriers to Telehealth Adoption Continue to Fall

As noted, no discussion of telehealth is complete without mentioning both telehealth licensure and reimbursement. These remain state issues and few regulations remain consistent when crossing state lines. This stifles the spread of services from neighboring communities and means that no national standard has been set for patient safety guidelines.

The momentum is shifting, though. More than 100 bills before state legislatures aim to hasten telehealth adoption and break down licensing and reimbursement barriers. In addition, the American Medical Association gave telehealth a hearty endorsement during its most recent annual meeting.

Today, telehealth still progresses primarily in the form of pilots. Some patients and providers are an easy sell, free iPads or no, but others need prompting. For insight into telehealth's proof of value, study the physicians who use it, says Dr. Ronald F. Dixon, director of the Delivery Innovation Program at the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology. This will help you demonstrate whether the technology "intervention" actually makes physicians' lives easier and adjust your strategy accordingly, he says.

As the value proposition emerges, and as the regulatory environment continues to sort itself out, external barriers to telehealth adoption seem to be falling. That leaves internal barriers. Increasingly, then, the only thing standing in the way of a healthcare organization using telehealth is the organization itself.


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