Guest post by Steve McGraw, CEO, REACH Health.
Telemedicine technologies are evolving rapidly, enabling better care, greater patient access and the promise of bending the healthcare cost curve. Telemedicine has evolved dramatically over the past few years, and providers have come to realize the profound ways in which it can improve patient care. With this evolution has also come the increasing sophistication of telemedicine practitioners. Doctors, nurses and administrators now desire easier integration, clinical adaptability and configurability, support for multiple specialties on a single comprehensive platform, and robust data collection and analytics.
REACH Health, a leading provider of enterprise telemedicine solutions, has identified five key technology trends for the coming year, each promising benefits for providers and patients. These trends for 2016 include:
Obsolescence of Proprietary Hardware and Networks: Although proprietary hardware and networks were standard in the early generations of telemedicine technology, healthcare providers now desire affordable, flexible solutions. Effective telemedicine programs are increasingly powered by off-the-shelf PC components, standard, low-cost cameras and emerging networking standards such as WebRTC. These open, standardized products allow providers to choose the most appropriate end-point for the clinical need; whether it be a high performance cart, a PC or a mobile device such as an iPad, Android or Surface tablet. Providers also now increasingly seek specialty-specific telemedicine software applications that are deployable across these commodity hardware devices using open networks.
The Rise of the Software Platform: Healthcare systems now seek enterprise-wide telemedicine solutions that can be scaled to support multiple service lines and a variety of delivery models, all on one common platform. Just as single-function “dumb phones” have been rendered obsolete by multi-purpose “smart phones,” providers want a single platform to accommodate all their telemedicine needs. They expect a simple, effective solution that supports varied telemedicine requirements across the continuum of care and works wherever it is needed, on a variety of devices. These platforms must also be designed with an open architecture, providing the ease of plug-and-play connectivity with specialized, interoperable components such as high quality peripherals.
Richer Clinical Apps for Physicians: The keys to effective patient engagement are unique for each physician. To recreate the bedside experience for doctors and patients, telemedicine solutions need to support individual physician preferences. Simultaneously, they should help healthcare organizations in their quest to standardize treatment protocols. To address these needs, telemedicine solutions are becoming more adaptable, providing physicians with the flexibility to specify how information is displayed and utilized, all within the boundaries of the standard clinical protocols defined by the provider organization.
Built-in EHR Integration: Because most telemedicine networks include providers using different EHR systems, patient information needs to flow freely as needed. During a telemedicine consultation the relevant patient information should be presented seamlessly to both the clinician at the point of care and also to the remote specialist, even when they each use a different EHR. As telemedicine spreads throughout the continuum of healthcare delivery, integration with EHR systems is quickly becoming a baseline expectation.
Data Analytics: As the practice of telemedicine matures, providers are seeing that successful programs do not take a set-it-and-forget-it approach. Effective program management requires clinical, usage and financial data, covering a broad spectrum from individual consultations and physicians to setting-specific metrics and program-wide trends. With first-generation telemedicine systems, telemedicine program managers have been painstakingly gathering this data manually but now increasingly expect this information to be readily accessible in contemporary systems.
Provider expectations of telemedicine technologies are shifting rapidly. With increasing focus on patient engagement and improved outcomes, providers are consistently seeking telemedicine solutions that do much more than simply enable consultations, but truly enhance clinical effectiveness and overall program management. Proprietary systems are now on life support, increasingly collecting dust while adaptable telemedicine platforms are on the rise.