Guest post by Grant Kohler, vice president, Innovation and co-founder, REACH Health.
I began my healthcare career in the hospital setting. While working at Georgia Regents University (formally the Medical College of Georgia), my colleagues and I developed one of the nation’s first telestroke systems. It was rudimentary at first, literally pieced together on an IV pole from existing equipment: web-enabled video cameras, flatbed scanners for CT scans and spare CPUs, with a landline telephone to provide audio. Since then, I’ve worked with many facilities across the country to set up telemedicine platforms. Over that time, I’ve witnessed a variety of approaches to telemedicine.
One major transformation I’ve witnessed more recently: Many hospital systems are now choosing software-based platforms over hardware-based technologies. As I’ll explain shortly, this shift in thinking has important implications worth considering.
Core Technology: Software vs. Hardware
Telemedicine platforms are evolving rapidly with no signs of slowing. It is prudent to ensure that your hospital is in a position to take advantage of the rapid pace of improvements without being locked into a solution that hinders or prevents future technological enhancements or program expansion.
To appreciate the difference between focusing on software vs. hardware, consider the evolution of mobile phones. In 2007, the first smartphone was introduced. At the time, flip phones were considered leading edge. Less than five years later, flip phones were deemed antiquated by most. Why? The cell phone is a hardware-centric device and the smartphone is a software-centric device.
In the telemedicine industry, first-generation solutions such as tele-presence carts and robots began as single-function, hardware-centric devices. Even if they work satisfactorily for their narrow purpose, they lack the flexibility needed to support cost-effective upgrades and expansion for multiple service lines. Also, because the hardware is proprietary, it often isn’t subject to commoditization and is priced at a premium. As telemedicine technologies have evolved, software-centric platforms have become available and offer increased flexibility, including new capabilities and multiple endpoint options.
Support for Creating a Telemedicine Network – Thinking about the Subscribers
The literal goal of telemedicine is to create networks where provider hospitals offer specialty care or expertise to subscribing hospitals. Successful execution produces improved outcomes and patient satisfaction for a larger number of patients and creates economic benefits for both the provider and subscriber hospitals.
Your telemedicine platform can impact your ability to recruit hospitals into your network. In competitive markets where other provider hospitals are vying for the same potential subscribers, a well-designed telemedicine platform provides a recruiting advantage. If a large hospital balks at expensive hardware investments that easily become dated, a smaller hospital will have similar concerns but a tinier budget. Hospitals of all sizes seek to leverage maximum utility out of all investments with a minimal disruption to existing processes and workflows. With hardware-centric platforms, the inherent focus is often on the technology itself rather than the patient. This is unpalatable for most hospitals considering telemedicine, as their primary objective is better patient care.