But there are still technological hurdles—such as protecting patient privacy, securely sharing a patient’s medical records, and ensuring the accuracy of data transmitted from system to system. In that area, help lies in the government’s push for electronic health systems and calls for better interoperability and connectivity among providers’ systems, says David.
Another problem is that remote technology can make it more difficult to authenticate both people and data. Systems must have a function to validate the identity of the physician and the identity and the medical history of the patient.
Additionally, systems should be designed to ensure that images are accurate and to flag possible errors in data, such as missing pixels in a digital x-ray.
One way to control technical issues is to stick with procedures already in place—new technology doesn’t mean organizations should change the way they operate. “It’s very important for executives to insist that the program will be integrated into regular services support they provide,” David says. For example, if you already have a dermatology clinic on Tuesdays, telemedicine consultations should be held on the same day. Protocols such as taking a medical history should not vary between live and remote visits. “That way you are sure that you comply with all the necessary clinical requirements as well as the technical requirements,” he says.
Loyola’s system is not a big, fancy, high-ticket solution. But it fits its needs, Webster says.
“There are different reasons for using different technologies. They have varying levels of cost,” she says. “It’s important to do a needs assessment and say, ‘What is it we need to achieve from this?’ And that helps you determine what the cost is. You can get sucked into buying a lot of things that you don’t need or you can go too low and not get enough technology to meet your needs. It’s important to build that up front when you’re designing your program.”
Rather than trying to measure ROI based on the dollars per life saved, healthcare organizations should measure other benefits, such as improved quality and safety, Webster says.
“There is a financial barrier to entrance” to telemedicine, David says. But healthcare leaders should balance investment with expected ROI, he says.
“Definitely do not wait, because your market share, I believe, will [suffer] if you don’t have this type of program available to you. If you’re not participating, you might be late for the train. It definitely will not wait.”