MedCity Influencers, Health IT

Why Telehealth Implementation Is Not Just a Project for IT

Telehealth implementation should be a joint responsibility of IT, administration, and providers. Otherwise, a lack of teamwork between departments leads to siloing and lots of passing the telemedicine “hot potato” among those who don’t have all the information.

Demand for telemedicine has risen over the past two years from both patients and providers. McKinsey & Company estimates that telehealth implementation has soared to levels 38 times what it was before 2020, and 40% to 60% of consumers are open to broader virtual healthcare options. So, why aren’t more healthcare systems engaged in robust telehealth solution implementation initiatives?

The answer is likely rooted in three major misconceptions surrounding healthcare technology adoption. When healthcare organizations can bust their internally held myths around telehealth adoption, they can avoid the pitfalls common to telehealth solution implementation, implement successful change management, and better serve their communities.

The biggest stumbling blocks in telehealth project management

The chief misconception is that telehealth is solely the responsibility of the IT department. It’s not. Telehealth implementation should be a joint responsibility of IT, administration, and providers. Otherwise, a lack of teamwork between departments leads to siloing and lots of passing the telemedicine “hot potato” among those who don’t have all the information.

You might think of this problem as similar to gifting someone a puppy they did not ask for and expecting them to take care of and nurture it. A puppy is great for people who like dogs, want a dog, aren’t allergic to dogs, and have the time and resources to care for a dog. However, a puppy that’s foisted on someone without their input during the selection process is at risk of being unwanted and neglected. The same can happen when tasking a single team with “gifting” a telehealth platform to the rest of the organization. Other teams that don’t have a stake in the selection or implementation of the project might not understand its importance within the ecosystem and might demonstrate resentment from being saddled with yet another mandatory workflow.

Overcoming this misconception requires telehealth platform implementation to have joint ownership across the organization. Any decisions around new telehealth projects should be made with honest, informed feedback from all stakeholders at every stage, from selection through implementation.

The second misconception that gets in the way of implementation is that telehealth is a product. Telehealth is a much wider solution than just a product. Instead of looking for a platform for video visits only, healthcare providers should see telehealth as a broader experience for patient care. Any number of products or processes can buoy this experience, but a single product or service doesn’t suddenly turn on the “telehealth switch.” To be successful, you must think of telehealth as a customized delivery method that considers all user perspectives and expectations.

The final telemedicine misconception is that telehealth usage should be part of a corporate-wide mandate. “You will start using telehealth on this date,” your company might say. Though mandates can be helpful, they don’t incorporate the empathy you need to get buy-in from your providers across the board.

Remember that for some employees, telehealth might feel like more work. Without proper training, ample practice, and the shared understanding that perfection is not a day-one expectation, users might revert to their in-person comfort zones. Consulting with stakeholders before deploying a telehealth initiative is a way to show inclusiveness and consideration for end users, as it offers the best chance for engagement across all worker strata in a healthcare facility.

Three tips for getting telehealth right for your organization’s benefit

If you don’t already have a robust telehealth platform in place, now is the time to start talking about it. Below are some ways to build telemedicine awareness, passion, and buy-in within your organization. Each one helps you avoid the pitfalls of the three misconceptions noted above and get the most benefit from offering telehealth to the community you serve.

  1. Identify tech solutions that will integrate with your team’s existing workflows.

A massive worry among healthcare workers is that integrating a telehealth product — even if it’s terrific — will interrupt their daily processes and procedures. Thankfully, delays and frustration don’t have to be the norm. Solutions are available that can mesh with your team members’ existing workflows and minimize disruptions. It’s all about finding the right solution that integrates seamlessly with the way your teams work.

As part of your efforts, be sure to identify any open-minded, pro-change stakeholders to bring into the discussion. Do this by determining who will be first affected by any telehealth solution implementation. (Eventually, everyone will be, but focus on early adopters while you’re getting started.) Then, involve these stakeholders in the decision-making process. Aim to choose only telehealth solutions that will feel as intuitive as possible instead of disruptive.

  1. Accept that change will be difficult and give telehealth solution implementation the time it deserves.

People in clinical settings can have hundreds or thousands of workflows, processes, rules, and protocols. Keep organizational change management strategies in mind as you roll out telehealth platforms or products. Even a platform that integrates effortlessly into existing workflows might be met with dismay and friction. Allow for that necessary processing time in your patients and providers and give new telehealth initiatives time to grow on them.

That doesn’t mean that you should allow employees to revert to old workflows or opt out of converting; successful implementation requires momentum. But don’t just spring new telehealth tech on your team. Lead them through a detailed, well-considered implementation process that eases them into the experience. Communicate early and often, respect your team’s time to adjust, solicit meaningful feedback, and, wherever reasonable to do so, adapt your solution from lessons learned.

  1. Bring your training department into the mix.

Education is your most powerful ally for the success of any telemedicine initiative, so your training department will play an enormous role in any new telehealth strategy. End users will need support, which can come in the form of classes, workshops, and hands-on practice. Educated workers are less likely to be staunch in their dislike of new workflows, especially when they feel increasingly comfortable using telehealth products and platforms. Training personnel can also be critical in anticipating the learning curve and adoption, so early involvement is vital.

Providing regular training has the secondary effect of highlighting your empathetic leadership. Stakeholders will see that you want to give them all the necessary materials and information to feel competent and supported.

Even after you’ve finalized your implementation and training plan, accept that you will have to make changes, particularly at the outset. You can’t plan for everything. Yes, your plan should be well-researched before any training starts, but know that your training materials might require customization and will necessarily evolve.

Telehealth will involve multiple systems within your organization, including technology, patient care, support, and others. Don’t pigeonhole the role of telehealth in your organization into solely the IT department’s responsibility. If you want to bring telemedicine to your internal and external users with real success, you need to treat it as a tool for everyone to own, use, and appreciate. Inclusiveness and collaboration will win the day.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images

Chip McIntosh is Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) at AMD Global Telemedicine. A champion for people-centric digital transformation, he provides strategic product and technology leadership for the design, development, deployment, and evolution of telemedicine and telehealth solutions.

Before joining AMD, Chip built the first multi-tenant nationwide telemedicine network and marketplace to enable member hospitals and private providers to partner in any specialty, created the first telehealth platform with intelligent routing and queuing for video and integrated language interpretation, and introduced affordable internet access and free technology skills training to unserved communities in Appalachia.

He is passionate about open standards, interoperability, and eliminating barriers to information and health equity.

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