By Robert Annas, chief operating officer, Eagle Telemedicine.
Telemedicine is a booming industry. Hundreds of companies are providing virtual physician visits via videoconferencing technology to individuals at home, at school and in the office. A segment of this market consists of companies that provide telemedicine services to hospitals, so patients can get virtual bedside care from physicians and specialists round-the-clock—a big advantage, especially in rural hospitals hit hardest by the physician shortage.
This telemedicine sector is booming, too. How is it working for hospitals?
Very well. Hospitals report they transfer fewer patients to tertiary care facilities because they have ready access to specialized expertise no matter where they are located. Physicians report they have fewer burnout issues because telemedicine doctors can cover night shifts and fill in other staffing gaps. Patients and their families report widespread satisfaction with this new model of inpatient care.
Nevertheless, there are ways to do it wrong and do it right. When a hospital or health system decides to consider telemedicine, the selection process can be a complicated one. Whether you’re dissatisfied with a current provider and considering a change or looking to start a new telemedicine program from scratch, here are three things to look for to be sure you get the telemedicine partner that is right for you.
- Determine how care is delivered by telemedicine physicians.
Some telemedicine companies might have dozens of physicians on call across the country to serve the range of their hospital customers. The problem isn’t that they are well qualified. They probably are. The problem is that patients in those hospitals might never see the same telemedicine physician twice during their stay. How does that work?
Nurses have told us that when telemedicine companies furnish “a different doctor a day” or “a different doctor for every call,” it makes it difficult to build a long-term relationship, get to know them and drive better patient care forward. Nurses are an invaluable cog in the wheel of any hospital inpatient program. It’s best to listen to them.
Look for companies that assign a small team or “pod” of six to eight virtual physicians exclusively credentialed for a particular site. Over time, they all become an integral part of a hospital’s clinical team, deeply familiar with a hospital’s specific services, its procedures and its people. The result is more consistent, more personalized care.
This smaller team helps speed the credentialing process, easing the administrative burden for hospitals wanting to start a telemedicine program. It can be a headache credentialing a roster of physicians who might only have a few sessions with patients at the hospital. There’s little return on investment there.