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How to identify effective telemedicine systems

Telemedicine systems must be affordable and able to run securely for a healthcare organization to consider committing to treating patients remotely.

Increasingly, hospitals and physicians that treat patients in remote and rural areas are finding that telemedicine systems are convenient ways for them to provide patients with quality care. Many healthcare entities are in favor of industry-wide initiatives, such as increasing the amount of incentive payments that facilitate the use of electronic communication to support long-distance healthcare and patient education. As more telemedicine systems flood the healthcare marketplace, providers should be aware of the key differentiating factors that make some products more suited to their organizations.

The growing demand for better patient engagement and more convenient care has been met by payers and federal healthcare entities that have offered reimbursement payments for e-visits that take place on a telemedicine system. Although reimbursements lend some financial support to providers that operate telemedicine systems, the upfront costs are significant. Some physicians have been able to offset some initial costs by applying for grants offered by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Selecting a telemedicine system can be challenging. A healthcare facility should review products to see which ranks the highest in the following five areas and will be the best fit for its organization.

Ease of use and secure access

When it comes to telemedicine products, there are frequently concerns around security. This means vendors have to take extra precautions to ensure the communication between two end points is protected. These security requirements call for IT employees to test the setup post-implementation. There is also a new generation of telemedicine products that are browser-based, compatible with mobile devices and able to be configured within minutes. Ease of use and security are two critical criteria that must be met by any telemedicine system for it to achieve a high adoption rate.

HIPAA compliance and system security

In many cases, patient information is exchanged and stored within a telemedicine system. This means the system must be HIPAA-compliant and not prone to exposing patients' protected health information. If a telemedicine offering fails to satisfy HIPAA requirements, it will add significant risks and liability to any healthcare organizations that choose to implement it.

Medical device connectivity

Telemedicine is more than videoconferencing or remote visits; it can also be applied to securely transport a patient's medical data -- captured by devices in the patient's home -- to her care provider. Using wearable technology in combination with a telemedicine system can make patients feel more involved in the care process and lead to better outcomes. Countless vendors sell mHealth tools that capture data that can be weaved into a telemedicine encounter.

System integration, flexibility and functionality

Medical practices have several systems that host patient health information. Clinicians and other care providers frequently access EHR systems to document patient visits. In addition, accounting and administrative staff members interact with patient data that resides in billing and scheduling systems.

As telemedicine systems reach a wider audience, current workflows and health IT systems need to be modified to accommodate remote patient visits. Effective telemedicine systems must be flexible and able to integrate and share information with previously installed software. Examples of this are telemedicine systems that include scheduling capabilities or ones that can interact with EHR systems to pass along any data captured during the telemedicine appointment.

Costs of telemedicine systems

Telemedicine systems are either installed locally or hosted externally. It's up to each healthcare organization to evaluate its infrastructure and the products in the marketplace to identify which would work best for it. As healthcare providers pick through different technologies that could be deployed at their organizations, telemedicine continues to stand out and show signs of tremendous value. An increase in reimbursement payments and shift toward value-based care are likely to give physicians more reasons to engage with and treat patients without requiring both sides to be in the same location.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected] or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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