The articles in this month’s newsletter are focused on adoption of telemedicine, and I thought it might be interesting to explain what VirtualMed witnessed first-hand in the early adoption of telehealth seven years ago.
What we experienced from this were that the early movers in virtual care shared three basic characteristics that drove telehealth adoption.
Strategic Planning. Seven years ago, few health systems had chosen to dive into the world of telehealth. While it was in use in many locations, the main use then was largely in Radiology, where telehealth easily allowed x-rays to be read remotely. Other small programs certainly existed, but only the most progressive health systems drew a line in the sand and committed to moving forward. For these systems, they shared common traits, including strategic thinking, a long-term view of how telehealth could improve patient care, and a carefully crafted 3 to 5 year plan, even then, to step forward with telehealth. The systems who lead this charge shared each of these traits, and as a result, their willingness to use telehealth made them both thought leaders and the part of the first wave of systems with established telehealth programs. Having a commitment to innovation, recognizing that planning for telehealth should span multiple years rather than months, and a written plan to transform patient care distinguished these systems. Strategic planning worked.
- Pilot Programs. The systems that outpaced their counterparts seven years ago also shared a common trait in requiring pilot programs. Rather than diving in too early, or too broadly, they focused on learning all they could about a single service line. A common choice was Telepsychiatry in the ER, otherwise known as Emergent care. By establishing pilot programs at the system level, these systems were able to prove to their own clinical teams that Telepsychiatry worked and worked extremely well. Additionally, the use of virtual physicians meant that patients could be seen at each hospital in a system – not only one or two. This let hospitals of all sizes in the same system have equal access to virtual patient care. Adoption came along quickly for systems such as these, and the essential need to “buy in” from clinicians across the system was rather easily done. Seeing was believing.
Intentional Expansion. With pilot programs leading the way, forward thinking systems used their long-term planning to move into sub-specialization with virtual physicians. For example, Emergent Telepsych lead hospitals to be open to taking on virtual Telepsych Inpatient Care (rounding), and soon after Telepsych Outpatient Care (largely medication management). Clinicians across these systems were able to see for themselves that Telepsychiatry applied with equal effectiveness to Emergent Care, IP Care, and OP Care.
Adoption moves at a much faster pace today, but these same traits will be evident on the best systems now, and for years to come.