Making the Connections to Make Telehealth Work
Commentary by Sharon Kromer, BSN, RN, CCRC, CTC, Clinical Coordinator, Lehigh Valley Health Network
We began doing remote patient monitoring more than 13 years ago, and those early efforts evolved so that we now operate 18 different telehealth programs. The technology has changed a lot in that time — solutions today are more complete and much easier to roll out — but the fundamentals of a good program are largely the same. Here are four keys to a successful telehealth program that I have learned:
Do it for the right reason. Programs should be motivated by patient population needs and designed around them. There is a lot of good technology out there, but programs should be based around the patient.
Start small. Because programs need to be tailored, there is a lot to consider. It’s important to do a lot of research on the equipment that will be used — for example, the functionality it provides, its reporting capabilities, how it integrates (or doesn’t integrate) with your other systems, and its reliability. It is easier to expand the program once you have the details right.
Adapt the system to your needs — not vice versa. To determine if a telehealth program would be worthwhile and practical, get the answers to these two questions:
- What information does the program need to provide to make care more effective?
- How can you get that information?
You can be flexible in your system design once you have a clear understanding of those issues. For example, we don’t require all of our telehealth programs to get data into our electronic health record system the same way. We operate an advanced ICU where all the data can be seen in real time, and once that data is validated, it flows directly into the EHR. Having real-time information isn’t as important with some of our remote patient monitoring programs, so we get the data into the EHR by scanning in reports produced by the remote monitoring software solution. Some community hospitals don’t have EHRs that can integrate with ours, so we find different ways of working with them.
People are key. Telehealth is a patient program, not a technology program, which relates back to doing it for the right reason. The people who work with the patients are what will really make the program successful. All of the nurses who work in our Remote Patient Monitoring Department have previous home-care experience. The ability to make a connection with patients is essential. Many of our patients love having frequent interaction with the provider over the phone. When we have good interaction, we get more patient buy-in and patient engagement, and that leads to good outcomes.