Health Consulting

Summer Series: The Essentials of Telehealth (Part 2)

Health Consulting

By Dr. Jamie Skipper, RN, PhD and Jesse Walsh MPH

If you haven’t yet read part one, we encourage you to go back and read about some of the reasons telehealth makes sense not only today, but for the future of healthcare. Today we want to address some practical components necessary for any health data technology to have viability, longevity, and scalability in the future landscape of telemedicine.

What do we want? Data! When do we want it? At the point of care! And also now…

Chances are, if you’re tuned into the news at all, data comes up in some capacity almost daily. Data has become the thing we all want- whether businesses looking to improve profits, health consumers looking to have maximum engagement, or health care professionals wanting to provide care to patients that actually improves outcomes. Data is at the heart of any health-tech solution; and the ease of data sharing and interoperability are essential to successful telehealth products.

Physicians need full access to patient data at the time of each telehealth encounter. And whether the source is electronic health records or connected medical devices, access to meaningful data gives physicians a full picture of the patient’s health story, thus improving their diagnostic ability. When data exchange occurs entirely and instantaneously, a physician does not have to gather data that already exists during patient interactions, making appointments shorter. If data feeds viewed by providers offer concise actionable data, physicians can streamline their decision-making, giving them a greater return on their time invested. And when physicians provide better care in less time, it means higher compensation within a value-based care system. The key is to create seamless data access and exchange for a seamless telehealth experience.

Telehealth platforms need to provide health consumers with access to data about the care they receive. Whether in a portal or separate application, the data on these platforms must be meaningful, up to date, automatically uploading, and easy to find and understand.  Patients should be able to share information with their providers and correct inaccurate data. The goal is to empower patients to ask questions, search for further information from trusted resources, and be engaged in their health.

We’ve updated our privacy policy…

The more data that we include in electronic records, the higher protection people will want for that data. If it’s true of our photos, usernames, and email, then it’s even more important for health data. Health tech companies must guard against threats to privacy and security at the highest level when handling and storing health data that, ideally, paints a robust picture of each patient. Fully integrated security solutions will be essential for product development, which means prioritizing a complete understanding of the governing regulations on cybersecurity and software development in regard to data protection.

Gen Z, and Millennials, and Boomers, oh my!

One of the snags a telehealth company might hit is a dissonance between their target demographic and early adopters of their technology. While most millennials are willing, if not eager to digitize all aspects of their lives, the patients using the most resources in the health care system are the elderly. Older patients often have multiple chronic conditions or comorbidities and require frequent appointments, tests, and procedures as part of routine care. The benefits of telehealth for the elderly are massive given the market opportunity and potential cost savings, but one of the largest obstacles of adoption will be usability. Telehealth solutions might require a level of technological literacy, so UX design for older patients is critical. Whether that be larger format compatibility for tablets to ensure easy visibility, AI chatbots and instructional videos for guided use, etc., robust customer support is paramount to ensuring proper use of the product and positive health outcomes.

Which is not to say that UX improvements couldn’t be made across the board. All users, regardless of age, need usable online portals. Patient engagement with such portals is notoriously low because of unintuitive interface or convoluted design. And even when patients figure out how to navigate through them, the portals are often very limited in their functionality. Upgrades to UX could improve adoption of telehealth solutions and extend continuum of care beyond the doctor’s office. And on the other end, applications designed with the health care provider in mind could improve workflow, reduce training requirements, and even reduce the chance of medical errors.

Can you hear me now? Good…

We are all familiar with current video conferencing capabilities and failures. In a 5-10 minute remote appointment with a provider, there is no room for buffering, poor sound quality, or reconnecting. Companies must learn from these common frustrations and design for all levels of internet access- rural and urban, PC and cell phone- but plan for when those technologies fail. Utilization of phone, text, email, apps, video-sharing, and video conferencing will allow the widest reach of technology in telehealth.

Searching for devices…is your device discoverable?

We’re in the middle of a health technology revolution where the line between consumer products and medical devices blurs more daily. The internet of things and connected devices create the potential for immediate connection between patients and health care providers. Wearables like Fitbit or Dexcom provide up-to-the-second monitoring of patient vitals that allow a more complete vision of patient health to be built. Recreationally, consumers are generating their own data, and health tech companies need only create a space to utilize this data. The most successful company will be the one that integrates hardware and software smoothly, which will generate high quality data for better products and health outcomes.

Next up: What federal legislation, regulations, and programs are important to incorporate into telehealth-based solutions?

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Regulatory alignment for the next generation of health tech companies

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