The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telehealth delivery, proving remote, virtual care to be largely positive for patients and healthcare providers alike. However, to scale services and improve delivery as telehealth evolves, cloud-based communications will play a critical role.
The current state of telehealth
Like many other sectors, the earliest days of COVID-19 forced healthcare organizations to quickly mobilize existing resources as an emergency stopgap to reduce and avoid care disruptions. While they delivered on the immediate imperative, these ad hoc solutions fall short of the integrated requirements that will make telehealth sustainable.
To determine the current state of telehealth among healthcare organizations, we took a live poll in a recent telehealth webinar. According to participants, only 16% of healthcare organizations have mature telehealth programs capable of delivering a robust level of service.
The greatest proportion of respondents (49%) said that they’re either still defining their telehealth offerings or employing virtual healthcare services prescriptively using ad hoc solutions.
Many solutions that were employed in the short term are falling short. When asked which capabilities their existing telehealth platforms lack, webinar attendees reported the following:
- 80% have no collaboration tools
- 45% do not offer multichannel communications, such as voice, video and text-based messaging
- 35% lack middleware support and/or diverse endpoint support
- 30% do not offer centralized administration
- 10% do not meet enterprise-class security standards
Building the telehealth programs of the future
With 76% of consumers expressing interest in using telehealth in the future, and the potential of telehealth to resolve longstanding challenges in healthcare delivery, organizations have a vested interest in finding ways to integrate telehealth into their care models.
However, developing long-term telehealth strategies will require careful assessment of foundational technologies. For example, organizations are exploring platforms that offer integrated communications, robust security, scalability for surge demand, and remote management capabilities.
Why telehealth belongs in the cloud
During the webinar, Gregg Malkary, Founder and Managing Director of Spyglass Consulting, presented new research from a white paper developed in partnership with RingCentral surveying healthcare providers that successfully deployed telehealth.
This research examines the critical considerations providers must explore when choosing telehealth solutions and highlights the potential of the cloud.
“Successfully deployed telehealth solutions can support patient-centered care models that can maximize value-based reimbursement, and that can help achieve the Quadruple Aim framework by reducing healthcare delivery costs, improving care quality and outcomes, and enhancing patient outreach and engagement,” Malkary said.
A cloud-based telehealth solution that meets those requirements must include these five capabilities:
1. Integrated multichannel communications and collaboration tools capable of providing secure, high-fidelity audio and video for both pre-scheduled and on-demand appointments, as well as secure text-based communications and integrations that allow for the sharing of digital medical imaging and patient health data.
Such tools must be sufficiently robust to include not only patients and their primary care teams, but also family members and specialists.
2. Diverse mobile endpoints that enable communication with hospitals and providers on different computing platforms and devices. Platforms must also allow for communication with patients on their preferred device, whether a laptop, tablet, mobile phone or landline.
3. Middleware support to ensure seamless integration with EHRs and administrative workflows such as scheduling.
4. Enterprise-grade security, such as gold-standard HITRUST certification, to meet HIPAA compliance requirements and protect sensitive patient data. This must include encrypted data transfer, password-protected meetings, and host controls to help identify and validate meeting attendees.
5. Centralized administration, including detailed usage reports, to optimize clinical workflow processes, troubleshoot networking issues, and monitor the ROI of telehealth programs.
Preparing for the “new normal” of healthcare
As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. For telehealth, the immediate need to provide essential services amid COVID-19 has illuminated both the potential and the requirements for optimal care delivery.
“During COVID-19, telehealth was instrumental in connecting clinicians and patients by providing continuity of care. It helped save patient lives, reduced the risk of transmission of the virus, enabled clinicians to spend more time with their patients, and increased access to care, especially for patients who may be living in underserved, urban, and rural areas,” Malkary says.
And with telehealth here to stay, it’s up to healthcare organizations to deliver the on-demand access to care that today’s patients expect. Implementing next-generation healthcare technology, such as cloud-based telehealth, should be an integral part of every organization’s digital health strategy.
Originally published Oct 12, 2020, updated Mar 17, 2021