By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.
Once a fringe technology, telehealth has become a standard offering in many healthcare systems. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth accounted for 43.5% of primary care visits, compared to less than 1% in February 2020. Now that more hospitals and patients are accustomed to the technology, it’s likely here to stay.
As telemedicine becomes increasingly prominent, more healthcare organizations may seek accreditation for these services. When they do, their IT teams will play a crucial role in the process. While telehealth is a multidisciplinary field, whether an organization can get accreditation for its telemedicine system rests primarily on the IT department.
Why Pursue Telehealth Accreditation?
Right now, telehealth accreditation isn’t a necessity for healthcare organizations, but that could change in the future. As these services grow in popularity, accreditation will likely become a payer requirement for many healthcare plans. Seeking this qualification now can help hospitals and other health organizations prepare for future markets.
Even if telehealth accreditation doesn’t become a requirement, it’s still beneficial. Having validation of high standards can comfort patients, helping draw in and retain them for their future care needs. This assurance can boost organizations’ confidence in their own systems, too, encouraging them to make the most of telehealth’s vast opportunities.
Accreditation also provides a roadmap for continuous improvement by helping organizations maintain minimize liability amid changing standards. As telehealth becomes increasingly common, understanding relevant best practices will become integral to a healthcare organization’s success. Any company that wants to capitalize on telehealth should pursue accreditation, which means more involvement from IT teams.
Privacy and Security
IT’s most critical role in getting telehealth accreditation is ensuring user privacy and security. Improper data management could result in HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violations. Beyond HIPAA, different states have varying regulations that telemedicine platforms will have to comply with. Meeting these stringent requirements will require robust cybersecurity measures.
Since healthcare data is such a sensitive subject, accreditors will look for high data security standards. IT teams must understand where vulnerabilities may lie and how to patch them to prevent breaches. If IT workers can secure telehealth data from the start, it will lead to a quicker and smoother accreditation process.
Medical professionals understand what a telehealth system must offer to ensure quality care, but IT teams know the risks of data-sharing. These various stakeholders must work together to design a platform that enables seamless data transfer while preventing leaks. Without these security considerations, accreditation won’t be possible.
Accreditors will look for more than just security. Telehealth platforms must also work smoothly, delivering fast, high-quality care, and IT teams play a crucial role in this aspect, too. While IT workers can’t guarantee the quality of care, which relies on the medical staff, they control things like accessibility and functionality.
If a telehealth system is slow, confusing, or unreliable, it will limit doctors’ ability to help patients. Technical issues are the third-largest driver of dissatisfaction among telehealth patients, so these will likely prevent accreditation. IT workers must help design platforms that are bug-free and work as intended to satisfy patients and accreditors alike.
Similarly, IT teams should ensure these platforms work across multiple operating systems. Patient preferences are divided, with 45% preferring cell phones and 39% preferring laptops for telehealth. Systems should offer support for all of these devices to meet these varying consumer needs.
Telehealth Accreditation Prepares Hospitals for the Future
As more patients and healthcare organizations realize the benefits of telehealth, it will become a standard technology. Throughout this transition, companies that provide telemedicine services would be wise to seek accreditation. Doing so will help them prepare for the needs of the future and ensure safe, reliable care today.
Designing optimum telehealth systems will require collaboration between multiple departments. Much of the responsibility lies with IT workers, though. Functionality and security will be deciding factors for whether an organization can receive accreditation or not.