The 5 Most Common Mistakes Hospitals Make When Implementing a Telemedicine Program

common mistakes implementing a telemedicine program


In response to telemedicine’s success throughout the pandemic, many hospitals are looking towards implementing or expanding their own telemedicine program. Of course, implementing a telemedicine program doesn’t come without its own challenges. As an experienced telemedicine partner, VirtualMed Staff would like to help you on your telemedicine journey and offer guidance.

Here are five of the most common mistakes hospitals make when implementing a telemedicine program and solutions to overcome them.

1. Forgetting the “hidden variables” that impact a project timeline

In an ideal world, the steps in a project timeline would operate a lot like dominos; once one task is complete, the rest of the steps tumble over in quick succession. However, because implementing a telemedicine program isn’t a siloed effort, there are interdependencies to consider. Which means even slight delays can have repercussions on the overall project timeline.  

For example, it’s easy to say credentialing will take three months, but that timeline depends on several factors, like the responsiveness of the physicians and the hospital’s MSO, the time spent recruiting, hospital by-laws, delays in technology installation or integration, payor enrollment, to name a few. These hidden variables compound and can potentially delay a program from launching on time.

Solution: Provide a detailed breakdown of the project timeline and the variables that impact each deliverable. This will ensure stakeholders understand their role in the project plan, and how missing deadlines or delaying deliverables will impact the rest of the overall timeline. 

Additionally, identifying any risks or roadblocks that might delay a project will provide the stakeholders with foresight to know what problems to look for and how to avoid them. We provide a few of those pitfalls here: Reaching Peak Telemedicine.

2. Under/Over estimating patient volumes

Finding the right balance between the number of physicians necessary to cover patient volumes is essential for a telemedicine program to be successful. Too few physicians and the virtual team may become overworked and burnt out, leading to turnover and poor patient experiences. Too many physicians and you run the risk of underutilizing resources. Finding the Goldilocks Zone where patient coverage is just right is ideal for a sustainable program.

Solution: Estimate patient volume starting with the data. Start by analyzing the historical data and factoring in as many variables as possible, like diagnosis codes, average call length, and number of onsite staff to get an idea of the true patient volume and coverage needs.

Use patient volume data from a year prior and break it down by month and shift, then look at the data from six months later and compare the two. With enough data, you should be able to get an accurate picture of the patient volume.

 3. The importance of physician engagement

High physician turnover can crush a telemedicine program. Which is why it’s so important to create a culture and build a relationship between the virtual team and the onsite staff operating the telemedicine program. 

Solution: Some of the most successful telemedicine programs are ones that incorporate the physicians early in the implementation process. That way they can influence decisions, provide feedback on workflow recommendations, and develop a relationship with the onsite team.

4. The importance of organizational alignment

Oftentimes, the priorities of the individual healthcare facilities don’t align with the decisions made at the corporate level, which can cause friction and impact the success of a program. In fact, studies have shown that the primary culprit for a telemedicine program failing is typically a lack of internal staff buy-in and education.  

For example, existing physicians may view the addition of telemedicine as a threat to their job security, or onsite staff might see it as additional work without understanding the benefits. That’s why creating organizational alignment and gaining positive buy-in are critical to the success of any telemedicine program.

Solution: Ensure all stakeholders, from the C-suite to the facility leaders, are included in the implementation decisions. This will ensure everyone understands their role, has an opportunity to provide input, and understands the importance of the overall initiative. Each stakeholder can then convey that information back to their team and gain internal buy-in.

5. Not considering the future state of the program

Most telemedicine programs begin with the goal of addressing a specific need, like providing 4-hours of weekend outpatient coverage at a single location. But is that the extent of your telemedicine ambitions? Before implementing a program to address one need, consider where you want your program to be a year or two from launch, because you might be better off considering those future state plans in the initial project plan.

After all, if your plan is to expand coverage to additional locations a year after launch, then why not include those considerations at the start? It will save resources, time, and money building for the future state now, rather than repeating the process later.

Solution: Understand your current state, how it compares to your future desired state, and the timeline for when you want to get there. It may make more sense to combine the future state with the current plans. 

Bonus: Not choosing an experienced telemedicine partner

Implementing a telemedicine program can be challenging, but an experienced guide, like VirtualMed Staff, can help you overcome many of these challenges and navigate your organization throughout the entire implementation process and beyond. Similarly, an experienced telemedicine partner can help prepare your telemedicine program for long-term success through ongoing support, a focus on safety and security, and more. To learn more about how to successfully implement, build, and scale a telemedicine program, schedule time to connect with a virtual care specialist and let’s get started.