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Telehealth: More than just video conferencing.

Telehealth solutions are revolutionising how patients manage their healthcare and share information with medical professionals. For example, a patient may wear a device into which they can enter their vital signs, or have it collected through blood pressure readers, pulse oximeters, and blood glucose monitors. This means that we may not have to visit our GP or hospital which, with in-person healthcare services being rationed during the pandemic, has been vital.

According to a McKinsey Report, the number of consumers using telehealth solutions soared from 11% in 2019 to 46% in 2020 to replace cancelled healthcare appointments. Healthcare providers are reporting an increase of between 50 to 175 more telehealth visits compared to pre-Covid numbers. However, as many hospitals rushed to embrace telehealth technology to meet pandemic demands, now on reflection, many find themselves with two-way video products meant for web conferencing, not medical exams and clinical workflows. While video-only solutions may have appeared an affordable, quick-fix solution at the time, they are proving to be more costly and cumbersome, with extra steps that require more administrative hours, and even additional staff. Additionally, MS Teams, Zoom, Skype etc., tread a fine line when it comes to compliance and adhering to GDPR. It is often unclear where servers are stored if the personal health data is captured, and what contact details of hospital staff are shared with patients.

A large number of acute hospitals in Ireland and the UK, including Beaumont Hospital, have implemented a fully integrated telehealth platform that helps provide necessary care to patients while minimising the transmission risk of the virus to staff and patients. As a result, thousands of appointments that would otherwise have been cancelled are able to go ahead, ensuring that patients can still access the care they need. The hospitals have shared their list of fundamental learnings from these telehealth projects, including the need for:

1. Benefits of a continuous virtual workflow
The automatic scheduling of virtual appointments is of the utmost importance. There is a necessity for ease and accuracy. Equally important is ensuring that the patient experience is streamlined and intuitive. Patient notifications via email or text message should be triggered automatically from PAS or EPR. If manually sent, hospitals run the risk of human error and misinformation being sent to the patient.

2. Integration with PAS/EPR
Hospitals need their PAS or EPR systems to be the central repository for scheduling, documentation and launching of telehealth appointments. Bottom line, the hospital requires seamless workflows for all users, and for their PAS or EPR to be the source of truth!

3. Create a foundational workflow
Standardised workflow that can be individualised based on the particulars of a variety of specialities or use cases. Try and maintain current practises and operations for in-person visits to ensure minimal disruption and user acceptance. Telehealth isn’t a “one size fits all” and one speciality practising the same case may have some nuances that are specific to their department and operations – so having a foundation will allow for flexibility to alter workflows, keeping in line with standard work and not producing multiple workflows for the same use case.

4. Create a “lessons-learned” document
Document the learnings on telehealth implementation to address the restrictions of Covid-19, and benefit from a valuable retrospective resource in preparation for future deployment at any level. Those who should participate in this exercise should include all key stakeholders, including clinicians, IT, training, and operations.

The uptake in telehealth during this unprecedented time has been accompanied by a decline of in-person visits, facilitating public health mitigation strategies during this pandemic by reducing footfall in the interest of safety. Integrated telehealth solutions have proven to be a safer option for staff and patients by not only reducing potential infectious exposures, but also reducing the strain on their healthcare staff by automating workflows that refocus staff towards high-value tasks.

With solutions like T-Pro eClinic Manager that can integrate with any PAS or EPR, healthcare organisations are able to maintain continuity of care and avoid additional negative consequences from delayed preventive, chronic, or routine care. Remote access to healthcare services also increase participation for those who are medically or socially vulnerable or who do not have ready access to providers. Remote access helps preserve the patient-provider relationship at times when an in-person visit is not practical or feasible.

To learn more about how T-Pro's fully integrated telehealth platform can improve access to healthcare and patient outcomes, please get in touch.

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