Sometimes the most challenging part of implementing a telemedicine program is making the decision to start one. You might be familiar with other hospitals that use telemedicine successfully, but is it right for you? And what about others on your team—are they skeptics, or advocates, or undecided? How do you critically analyze your choices, and then reach agreement among your hospital’s clinical, finance, and administration decision-makers that telemedicine is the right one?
How do you get to “yes”?
At Eagle, we’ve put together a set of best practices over our nine years as pioneers in the telemedicine space for building the consensus and collaboration that are necessary to a telemedicine program’s success. They help get the ball rolling. We share these practices with individual hospitals, and with larger audiences at industry gatherings, including the National Rural Health Association’s Health Equity Conference this past May in San Diego, and earlier this month at the NRHA’s 13th Annual Rural Quality and Clinical Conference in Nashville.
The first step: a clear definition
What we find in our discussions is that many of the objections to telemedicine stem from preconceived notions about what telemedicine is (or isn’t). People sometimes visualize a science fiction-style setting where care is provided by robots; expertise is provided by artificial intelligence; and answers to questions come courtesy of Internet searches. Once we convey the message that telemedicine is less about technology and more about medicine, those preconceptions generally fall away.
It’s a simple formula: Telemedicine = Board-certified doctors caring for patients using modern communication tools to enhance interaction. This definition, we have found, is the starting point for consensus―the foundation for building understanding among all constituencies about the value telemedicine can deliver to hospitals large and small, rural and urban alike.
The next step: value
Once the definition is understood, we talk about telemedicine’s value in human and economic terms. Telemedicine can make the difference between a stroke patient walking out of the hospital the next day, or spending the rest of his or her life in a nursing home. It’s a powerful way to get the listener’s attention, and to open the discussion about the real benefits of telemedicine to patients, families, communities and hospitals.
Breaking down the benefits in four categories is an effective way to show the widespread positive impact a telemedicine program can have on a hospital and the people it serves:
- Patients get timely care when needed.
- Families avoid making long trips to tertiary referral centers because their community hospital is equipped to provide their loved ones with the care they need.
- Communities can feel confident knowing telemedicine is helping sustain their hometown hospital.
- Hospitals gain expanded services, reduce unnecessary transfers, improve retention and recruitment, and increase financial performance.
Case studies for real life examples
It also helps make your case if you share case studies that offer specifics about other program successes.
For example, here are some statistics from a recent TeleStroke program we implemented at a rural hospital. The numbers will vary, but this case study provides a good picture of how hospitals typically benefits from the program. The facility had an estimated 7.5 stroke calls per month out of 15,000 total ED visits per year. With a TeleStroke program that costs an average of roughly $12 per hour, the hospital retains 75 percent of its patients suffering from stroke or other neurological disorders, at an average DRG reimbursement of $8,500. That means annual revenue of $573,750, against a TeleStroke program’s annual cost of $105,120. Clearly, the numbers speak for themselves.
Similar steps, whatever the specialty
Whatever the specialty, be it TeleNocturnist, Tele-ICU or TeleStroke (among others), building a case for telemedicine involves the same steps―and demonstrating ROI is the most important. We also encourage facilities to involve trusted, credible leaders at the hospital as local champions of the program.
Through our experience developing and implementing telemedicine programs in hospitals across the country, we have developed many other proven practices for building consensus among all the players necessary to make a program work.
One of the most important practices: Accept the fact that there will always be a “naysayer” in the group. Take heart in knowing that, in our experience, the naysayers usually become the strongest advocates of the telemedicine program once it’s implemented, and once they see how it makes life better for everyone, from doctors to nurses to (most importantly) patients and their families.