Technological revolutions redefine our expectation and realign the way we work. Invention of penicillin, introduction of automobiles, discovery of oil, proliferation of data, and democratization of communication – all are examples of such a revolution. Telehealth will have a similar profound impact on population health and well-being. The path in the midst of any revolution is never clear and the destination never apparent. That is the phase telehealth is in right now. For this article, let’s focus on a more modest target of the promise of telehealth in modernizing the business of healthcare.
While innovation in medicine in form of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and understanding of human biology has advanced both quality and length of our lives, the business of healthcare has been largely stagnant. Industry after industry have seen massive efficiency gains and unimaginable customer care enhancements but the healthcare industry has been stuck in the quagmire of unquestionable systemic problems but no incentives (or ability) for any stakeholder to address them. The momentum of Value Based Care in the last few years promises to change that by providing a compelling ROI driven by both regulators and the market. One of the primary conduits of that change will be effective and efficient use of telehealth. Simply put, telehealth will define our ability to care for an individual anytime, anywhere, based on that individual’s needs, desires and opportunities.
While there are many moving parts that need to hum together for telehealth initiatives to succeed, three critical mistakes are a common denominator that often spell doom for them. 2019 is the year to get ahead of them. Discussion of these mistakes below gives clues on the approach to a successful telehealth program adoption.
Mistake 1: Missing the point
Telehealth is a means to serve patients better to improve care and reduce cost. It helps create an effective connection with patients, enabling communication and drawing insights for all stakeholders in the circle of care so that the patient can be served early, optimally and frequently. It affords the ability to personalize interaction with each patient such that they are not reduced to a set of ICD codes. Telehealth moves “putting patient at the center” from a cliché to an actual initiative.
Increasing industry focus on Value Based Care is nudging us towards patient first philosophy in any case. Telehealth provides the vehicle to embark on that journey. If your telehealth program does not have a core strategic goal of “patient first” transformation, it is missing the core purpose of telehealth.
Patient first not only has a strong ROI (both hard and soft) but is fast becoming a strategic imperative. And it is always the right thing to do.
Mistake 2: Winging it with a band aid approach
Successful technology innovations are often characterized by thinking big but starting small and adding on in quick small steps (software experts call it agile methodology). On the other hand, the turbulence caused by paradigm shifting innovation sprouts a melee of failures because in a rush to chase the fad companies start programs without a defined strategic intent. Telehealth has also been plagued by the same problem. Many telehealth projects start as one-offs, getting stuck in a maze, and never achieving any over-arching goal. Subsequent projects follow a similar randomized path resulting in a mish mash of band aids that causes more pain and frustration than reaching the potential of financial and care outcomes that telehealth is capable of delivering.
Telehealth program should aim to expand the revenue stream, optimize cost and enhance patient experience. These over-arching goals will inspire different decisions than those made in a vacuum of a short-term goal. Decisions like choice of a partner, of technology, of the first use case to attempt, of changes in processes, etc.
Many organizations commit to point solutions like, secure texting, remote monitoring, a mobile app to ask a few static questions/send a few reminders. They start in silos and might produce some short-term benefits but fail to realize the potential of telehealth. Instead, start with a business plan that defines your long-term telehealth strategy, the expected benefits and the ROI. Consider the threat of a competitor leapfrogging you with a telehealth offering. Put together a coherent solution based on those opportunities and threats that grows over time.
Mistake 3: Technology over transformation
Telehealth should be seen as a business transformation move rather than as a technology service roll out. Strategy, functional, financial and technology leaders must come together to answer the what, the why and the how. Change management should be one of the focus areas of business leaders embarking on the telehealth journey. Technology is a critical piece of success of a telehealth program but it is not the only element that determines its success, and telehealth planning should reflect that.
We can learn from other industries that have gone through a similar transformation in the last two decades. E-commerce was a systemic shock to retail. Many brick and mortars refused to acknowledge the wave and perished. Many others merely created an online store front and struggled. Those who truly integrated it in their business model from the supply chain all the way to customer service emerged victorious. Such an integration requires not only a redesign of processes and care models but also a fundamental reimagination of viewing patients as customers. Such a transformation requires change management that is often overlooked leading to failures of telehealth initiatives.
Coming to technology, the telehealth hype cycle is at its crescendo. The landscape is littered with empty promises and glossy vaporware leaving ruins of broken promises in their wake. Healthcare leaders must prevent the temptation to go with the hot new technology or a unicorn startup as much as they should resist the comfort of a large enterprise solution providers’ add on modules. Instead, they should first focus on their specific needs – long and short term – and make their own solutions roadmap with supporting technology decisions, keeping an open mind for all options including buy, build, or partner.
Telehealth technology decisions should balance agility and ability. Balancing the two, especially in the new world of cloud-based solutions with a relatively clearer path to data interoperability and workflow integration, is not only desirable but also eminently possible.
To conclude, telehealth should be viewed as a fundamental business transformation. Choose the right partner, devise a sound strategy, and implement a comprehensive approach. Telehealth strategy should consider the value of delighting patients by improving outcomes and convenience. It should also have a solid ROI by expanding revenue and optimizing cost. Done right, it is an opportunity to usher healthcare into the 21st century.
It is a big opportunity. Seize it! One thing no healthcare leader can afford to do is wish telehealth away!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Akash Randhar, the CEO of MEDSOLIS holds years of enriching management success, high performance team leadership, constantly invent creative strategy, and drives its implementation as well as resourcefulness. His insightful understanding of the healthcare industry has placed him well to lead an innovation driven healthcare startup. He believes that it is all about a drive to simplification. He brings that drive to MEDSOLIS consistently. Make our customers’ lives easier – is a constant pursuit he instills in every MEDSOLIS team member.