After decades of discussion and pilot projects and ad hoc contracts, Telehealth is finally hitting the mainstream. It has always been a logical delivery mechanism, and it has long been cost-effective for certain applications, but a mixture of market, payment, and legislative forces have moved the ball forward from discussion and trials and niche applications, to widespread planning and action. With a significant wave of pressure from patients and consumerism in general, some level of Telehealth is fast becoming an expectation. What does this mean for the role of the CIO?
On the one hand it is another critical delivery mechanism for patient care with heavy technology underpinnings. No different than services like urgent care or critical care. It requires a level of high-quality, high-availability infrastructure and telecom resources, interface into your EHR, Rev cycle, etc. Things you already know how to do. It does have the unique aspect of relying on a patient’s device and connectivity. While this is getting better all of the time, it makes control of the experience much more challenging. Resources and attention to this service are required. Other industries are successfully navigating this space, and healthcare is coming late (many would say as usual) to the party, so you can respond to demand which is already here.
On the other hand, this is a broad patient-facing realm, and Telehealth includes Chat, email, text, and voice, in addition to video. It also needs to blend seamlessly with your “non-Tele” health capabilities. It is another opportunity for the CIO role once again to be at the front of the house, rather than the back. There are expanding options to buy this technology as a service. Organizations and cloud services can take much of the risk out of the space between you and the patient. You can also purchase the clinical service and have an “instant” presence via contracting. This becomes much larger than a technology question and goes to organizational strategy.
In either case, you will want to ensure and maintain tight alignment with patient care leadership. There is nothing worse than offering a “me too” virtual service that is not backed up by solid clinical and business operations. Next, you will want to provide seamless integration with your patient portal, Rev Cycle, and EHR. You will also want to synchronize with your patient engagement and patient access strategies/tactics. In other words, you will need to engage on multiple fronts if there is not already a good framework in place.
There is a shrinking window here where the patient is understanding of a less than perfect experience, but a growing demographic is already shopping for providers based on their virtual capabilities, and Telehealth is at the center of that dynamic. The CIO should be a key part of developing, coordinating, or enhancing Telehealth strategy as a C-Suite leader, as well as a back-end provider of critical support services.
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