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Telemedicine vendors can learn from collaboration software tools

Collaboration software tools like Slack can offer valuable lessons for telemedicine, such as accessing data in real time, that can lead to a wider adoption in healthcare.

After decades of EHR optimization, interface changes and software upgrades, many physicians are admitting that...

the EHR has not necessarily improved their efficiency. Introducing telemedicine to the mix could add serious scrutiny if the tools are not intuitive and easy to use. Fortunately, error reduction and access to more data have been addressed, which may make it easier for healthcare professionals to adopt telemedicine.

Telemedicine at its core is about video or audio communication with patients, as well as occasional content sharing. Telemedicine vendors can take a lesson from some collaboration software vendors who have successfully disrupted the space and gained millions of users organically in a short period of time. Slack and Microsoft Teams have shown their ability to bring individuals together in an efficient and easy way while still using all digital methods of communications in one tool.

One unique feature Slack offers is a social media approach to user interaction, while Microsoft Teams incorporates other forms of communication. Figure A shows how a caregiver can use Microsoft Teams to interact with other members of the care coordination team or with the patient. A caregiver can also review the patient's most recent medical updates. The figure also shows how a user is exposed to different content formats, such as medical images or scanned letters.

Microsoft Teams also incorporates a feature that is available within OneNote that allows the note taker to record audio or video clips and attach them to a file. The clips are then accessible to whoever has permissions. Microsoft Teams allows a care provider to take freeform notes and attach them to the current record (Figure B).

Another lesson telemedicine vendors can take from collaboration tools is to add integration capabilities that make the software more extendible. Healthcare professionals would likely use this feature to access health data that resides in other systems. Integration with EHR platforms or lab systems would allow participants to request and review health data in real time. Other integrations could allow providers to schedule follow-up appointments or order lab results or prescriptions.

States support telemedicine, but physicians worry about productivity

Texas and Utah are actively seeking telemedicine legislation that would help support the ongoing push for patients to have remote access to healthcare professionals and services. While states like Florida had telemedicine legislation approved last year, more states are preparing to add more screen time for physicians who are already concerned that their EHR is affecting their efficiency and productivity.

One final takeaway telemedicine vendors should consider is allowing historical data and conversations to remain accessible to patients and providers if they retain access permissions.

There is no claim by Microsoft or Slack that they will enter the telemedicine space, nor are these real use cases. These examples simply highlight some of the features that telemedicine could benefit from. The examples also show how a new approach to collaboration has disrupted an old and outdated market that has historically focused on content sharing or audio and video conferencing tools. By following the example of collaboration software vendors, telemedicine may gain wider adoption.

Microsoft Teams
Figure A: A conversation between team members in Microsoft Teams
X-ray image in Microsoft Teams
Figure B: Adding an X-ray image as a note in Microsoft Teams

Next Steps

Four steps to implement a telehealth program

Telemedicine challenges that impede adoption

A new collaboration platform could be coming to healthcare

This was last published in April 2017

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What other lessons can telemedicine learn from collaboration software vendors?
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Good question, Reda.

As a vendor of secure collaboration solutions, one piece of advice would be to focus on the communications channel (video, audio, chat) and not try to duplicate the full set of functionality required for content sharing. The challenges of meeting the needs of healthcare users when sharing PHI are significant, including: demonstrating necessary controls for HIPAA compliance; synchronizing files so that when documents are updated the patient or collaborating physician is working with the latest version; and allowing annotation and editing as appropriate for clarification on whatever device the user is working on. These are just a few of the capabilities that solutions like Accellion offer -- and when telemedicine requires sharing a file, could be easily accessed via a shared link.
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