As a result of the current global health crisis, the need for telehealth has never been greater. Moreover, the demand for telehealth services has skyrocketed. Yet, when the pandemic has finally been eradicated, telehealth faces a reckoning moment—specifically, the healthcare industry must address the issue of interoperability.
Why is interoperability crucial? What can be done about it to ensure the seamless delivery of telehealth services in the future?
What is interoperability in healthcare?
Interoperability refers to the ability of different information systems, devices, and applications to access, exchange, integrate, and cooperatively utilize data in a coordinated way. This access, exchange, integration, and cooperative use should take place within and across organizational, regional, and national boundaries so that information is portable. Portable information enables better health outcomes.
Interoperability can only take place if there are standards that allow information to be shared securely and appropriately across an organization, and even with an individual.
What’s the connection between interoperability and telehealth?
Interoperability has become an increasingly important topic within the healthcare field, especially in the realm of telehealth. There are two primary areas of telehealth that are impacted by the issue of interoperability:
- Interoperability as it pertains to electronic health records
- Integrated multi-channel collaboration
Leveraging cloud communications platforms for telehealth delivery
How can a modern UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) platform be utilized as the telehealth system for a provider?
Consider video conferencing as an example. There are robust video conferencing standards such as SIP/H323, which support UCaaS and multimedia communications. Yet, new options such as WEBRTC (an open-source framework for web browsers that enables real-time communication) are also emerging. These standards support the seamless integration of message, video, and phone capabilities with various clinical applications.
Moreover, providers want these integrated communications capabilities available during a telehealth visit. That means they should be able to message, video conference, talk, share documents or their desktops, and more.
What happens when there isn’t healthcare interoperability?
When there isn’t healthcare interoperability for communications platforms, two issues arise:
- Disparity between patients’ devices
- Disparity between patients’ internet connections
1. Disparity between patients’ devices
Not every patient has the latest and greatest computer, tablet, or laptop. They might be using an older device, or a less expensive, less sophisticated device with an operating system that can’t accommodate the latest video conferencing standards or other communications platform capabilities.
As a result, the patient with such a device will have a poorer experience than someone who has a device that is more modern or is compatible with the latest standards and capabilities.
2. Disparity between patients’ internet connections
Another healthcare interoperability issue is the difference between patients’ internet connections. Home and office internet connections weren’t designed to handle video calls, which are a significant component of telehealth services today. Internet providers previously assumed that consumers would be downloading content, rather than essentially uploading content in real time (which is what takes place during a video conference).
Poor internet connections affect the patient experience, too. When patients have difficulty seeing or hearing their practitioner due to an unstable connection, they miss out on valuable information and feel frustrated.
How can healthcare interoperability challenges be solved?
How can the problem of healthcare interoperability be solved? More to the point, who should be responsible for making this issue a thing of the past?
Cloud communications vendors must develop integrations with core clinical application environments like the EMR and patient portals. These integrations will help ensure that:
- Video conferences are clear and audible.
- Their telehealth services platforms include a variety of messaging, video, and telephony features.
- Patients can have a positive telehealth experience.
What can healthcare organizations do now?
Healthcare organizations can take steps right now to ensure telehealth services interoperability by choosing the right healthcare communications platform. Market-leading solutions overcome healthcare interoperability barriers.
- These platforms include messaging, video, and telephony capabilities.
- The solution enables a secure, no-download user experience.
- The software works on a variety of devices.
- The solution is HITRUST certified.
- The solution integrates with and can be launched from within a patient portal.
Telehealth services post-public health crisis
The current public health crisis won’t last forever. As the threat fades, healthcare providers will begin operating normally. So, what will that mean for telehealth services?
A logical assumption would be that patients won’t want to use telehealth services if they can see their providers in person. Yet, that would be an incorrect assumption; a May 2020 McKinsey study shows that 76% of patients want to use telehealth going forward. Patients want telehealth services because they’re a convenient and safe alternative to on-site healthcare.
“A May 2020 McKinsey report shows 76% of patients want to use telehealth going forward.”
The demand for telehealth services isn’t going to disappear just because traditional healthcare is available again. Providers need to invest in healthcare communications platforms that enable the effective, efficient delivery of telehealth services. These platforms should enable providers to deliver house calls from anywhere and meet their patients on their terms. Learn more about RingCentral’s telehealth capabilities.
Providers can start taking steps now to prepare for a post-pandemic reality (which includes the existence and growth of telehealth services). Healthcare interoperability shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving telehealth services. Choose the right healthcare communications platform today. Request a demo of RingCentral’s cloud communications solution for healthcare providers.
Originally published Oct 07, 2020, updated Jul 20, 2021