Telehealth for health systems: a look ahead

By Dr. Alan Roga

Recently my team and I celebrated our one-year anniversary as part of the Teladoc family. Last year, Teladoc acquired the company I founded in 2009, and our team continues with a focus exclusively on meeting the unique needs of hospitals and health systems. Today, more than 80 hospitals and health systems rely on Teladoc for a range of telehealth services, and this momentum is the direct result of Teladoc’s commitment to, and investment in, the hospital and health system market.

Looking back on accomplishments is nice, but our team is busy looking ahead. We listened to what hospitals and health systems said about workflows, administrative and integration needs, and limitations of software forced to do double duty to satisfy the needs of other segments like employers and health plans. We addressed those challenges—adding a number of great features to our licensable software solution—and the result is a gamechanger. Our software workflows the way doctors treat patients. Our administrative features provide functionality that health systems expect. It’s technology that works the way hospitals and health systems need it to work, and the market reaction has been truly exciting.

Of course not every hospital is instantly ready to deploy an enterprise-wide telehealth program with a licensed technology solution. We offer a range of telehealth solutions from co-branded solutions utilizing Teladoc’s core services to a licensed private-label software solution. Regardless of the solution, Teladoc provides operations support, marketing to drive engagement and the ability to use their providers, the Teladoc network or a combination of both through a preferred network.

There is no single pathway for every organization’s needs and goals, but whichever path hospitals choose, telehealth requires a strategic focus that aligns with organizational goals and imperatives:

  1. Organizational strategy
    We advise providers to view telehealth as an organizational strategy. As with information technology, telehealth has the power to touch all aspects of operations and advance clinical effectiveness. In other words, it’s not merely something that enables consultations. Viewing telehealth this way will help providers design a telehealth program as a strategic asset that adds value across the board.
  2. Readiness/needs assessment
    We help providers assess their needs and develop realistic implementation goals. For example, a smaller regional hospital may conclude its primary objective is increased market share and expanding its footprint through a retail offering. A rural or semi–suburban hospital with multiple sites may determine its most important need is securing a platform to connect specialists with remote patients.
  3. Timing/phasing
    Providers can often benefit from a phased approach to implementing comprehensive telehealth. For example, hospitals may introduce a succession of clinical services rolled out over three years, beginning with e-visits for their own employees or a retail program offered to a specific patient population. Phasing gives providers a chance to first walk, then run, then sprint.
  4. Solution set
    Once priorities and primary goals have been established, and realistic timelines have been considered, deciding on parameters for the solution set is the next step. What are the vendor requirements? How configurable is the solution? Does it support reporting and data analytics? How are workflows managed? Providers can effectively evaluate the field if they’ve thoughtfully evaluated their priorities and needs.

Hospitals and health systems are aware that telehealth is in their futures and are actively planning for it; no one wants to lag in this inevitable trend. Today, however, in my estimation less than 10 percent of hospitals nationally have broad-based telehealth in place. Telehealth is a strategic asset that can advance the organization’s highest priorities, and integrating it into everyday care will be increasingly important. These are challenging times for providers and we’re looking forward to helping them plan for the future.

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