Telemedicine technology and patient engagement initiatives

Vendors of unified communications systems are aware of the value their products offer to healthcare providers with telemedicine technology.

Seemingly everyone in healthcare is pushing for better patient engagement. Many healthcare professionals are looking for more than web portals and fitness trackers can offer in efforts to increase patient interactions.

Whether a physician simply wants to follow up with a patient post-discharge or answer an urgent medication question, there are more ways than ever for medical professionals and patients to interact. Hospital systems that are rolling out telemedicine technology, for example, are finding that remote checkups can result in patient engagement improvement.

How telemedicine technology enables care

Telemedicine has consistently delivered value to patients who are challenged to schedule appointments with healthcare specialists. Hospitals see a clear benefit to implementing telemedicine technology that allows patients who live in rural areas or lack transportation capabilities to make a remote appointment with a specialist. Through telemedicine, a patient can go to a local health office, or even stay at home, and connect with an appropriate healthcare specialist who may practice medicine in a different state.

Telemedicine products come in a few different forms. Some are hardware-based and others are add-ons to existing telephony systems. In the past, hospitals were required to set up separate systems that provided the needed back-end support for remote communication. Costs for such products were typically high, though federal and state grants made it easier for providers to adopt and achieve value from them.

Better patient outcomes and a reduction in hospital readmissions are the goals of the recent push for more patient engagement. Patients are finding that adding telemedicine on top of existing web portals and mobile apps enhances patient accessibility and communication with the care team.

Unified communications systems have the ability to natively offer telemedicine capabilities to healthcare organizations. Vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco and ShoreTel Inc. are aware of this and are exposing their healthcare clients to some of the capabilities of their unified communications systems.

Features of unified communications systems

The following are aspects of unified communications systems that make them an attractive part of a telemedicine initiative for healthcare clients.

Integrate with communications platforms: Most modern unified communications platforms offer softphones and apps that can act as an endpoint for voice and video communication. This functionality allows patients to connect from outside the hospital and permits caregivers to use the technology they are accustomed to. This makes is easier for healthcare professionals to stay in touch with patients, without the need for additional communication systems.

Ease of use and accessibility: For patients, platforms such as Skype are an easy way to connect to their healthcare providers through the Web. A video connection can be set up in a matter of seconds, making it simple for both parties to quickly connect and communicate.

Extendibility: Beyond the video connection, some telemedicine technology offers data sharing capabilities. Products such as CISCO's HealthPresence provide a conduit for health data to flow from patient to provider during a doctor-patient interaction. Physicians and nurses can access real-time data from different medical devices by using telemedicine in this fashion.

Scalability and management: A telemedicine product can either be fully implemented on-premises or set up through a cloud-hosted system. Healthcare CIOs can pick which option better suits their budget and technology infrastructure. For those looking to eliminate high upfront costs and infrastructure complexity, a hosted product is the more logical choice.

Telemedicine technology is a valuable asset to healthcare organizations. It can help physicians reach underserved populations, connect patients with specialist care, and coordinate post-discharge care. It is also an effective way for patients and caregivers to communicate. A lack of reimbursements for telemedicine services and other cost challenges are the top hurdles in the way of expanded use of telemedicine. Many of the providers that overcame financial difficulties and added telemedicine to their facilities have found it had an immediate effect improving patient engagement and doctor-patient interactions.

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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