Telehealth Value Starts With Strategic Vision

By: Bret Sharp, Research Director, KLAS

Virtual care is not a brand-new concept, but it’s certainly a shiny one in today’s healthcare IT market. As more and more provider organizations choose to purchase and adopt telehealth solutions, a divide is beginning to emerge. While available functionality leaves plenty to be desired, that’s not the most worrisome gap. More important is the one between provider organizations that are struggling to see value in telehealth and those that are finding success with it.

Most provider organizations’ telehealth goals are to retain market share, help a particular specialty or two, and get an ROI quickly. They try to accomplish these goals by implementing telehealth technology in one use-case at a time and asking vendors what an organization needs in order to be competent with telehealth. Unfortunately, these goals and methods can result in barriers to adoption caused by negative experiences for clinicians and consumers.

A few provider organizations, however, are more strategic in approach and go beyond simply adding revenue by increasing access to quality care. Their goals are to build the competency of their clinicians to virtually deliver high quality care, throughout the continuum, while reducing the overall costs of care and improving healthcare outcomes. They accomplish their goals by developing broad, long-term visions and telling vendors what their organizations need. Organizations in this category are much more likely to see the positive outcomes and virtual healthcare delivery efficiencies touted by telehealth promoters.

Most Provider Organizations

By now, many providers feel that telehealth is a viable delivery model of the future and that they need to do something with virtual care to stay relevant. A typical provider organization may start with one service line or use case (such as telestroke) that has been clinically and financially successful at many other organizations. From there, they may add one new specialty at a time.

But each step into the telehealth realm reveals more and more complexity. How will telehealth technology integrate with other HIT solutions? Which visit type is the most popular with consumers? How is an organization supposed to market telehealth? What does an operational support structure for delivering telehealth look like? What clinician services, if any, should we outsource? Provider organizations may be left with more questions than they know how to answer. This often leads them to ask a vendor (or several vendors), “What do I need in order to be successful with telehealth?”

The average vendor is happy to answer that question with a list of tools and services; however, they may conveniently list only the tools and services they offer. One challenge with that approach is that few vendors in the virtual care space offer solutions for all three of the standard visit types. In addition to that, all will struggle to an extent with providing the configurability and customization needed to support existing clinician workflows and the greater the impact on existing clinician workflows, the greater the impact on adoption rates. Many provider organizations don’t know what they don’t know, so it is difficult for them to get the answers they really need. This often leaves the organizations using siloed, unoptimized telehealth solutions and wringing their hands over how long it will take to see ROIs.

Strategic Provider Organizations

A small number of organizations, however, are in a much better place. They have broad, cohesive deployments of telehealth functionality that cover several different bases and yield positive outcomes. These results began long before the selection of a particular platform or vendor, however. Strategic organizations are best defined by—you guessed it—their overall strategies.

These organizations realized early on that virtual care would be more than just a fad. They knew that telehealth, properly implemented, would help streamline patient care across the care continuum and make it easier than ever for patients to take the initiative in their healthcare. Leaders at such organizations aren’t setting deadlines for when a telehealth solution should bring an ROI. Instead, they trust that jumping into telehealth with both feet will help them reach a new demographic of patients and provide better care. They measure their success not just in terms of net revenue but also patient and clinician satisfaction, reduced costs of care, staff load balancing, environmental impact, etc.

This outlook helps a strategic provider organization look at telehealth holistically, create a vision, and find the motivation to research until they understand the space. Instead of asking vendors what they need, the organization tells vendors what they need. When a vendor can’t offer everything necessary for a provider’s vision or scale appropriately, a strategic organization either looks elsewhere or pushes the vendor toward further development and partnership.

A Bridgeable Gap

At this point, the average provider organization may feel more frustration with telehealth than faith in it. But other organizations are finding success, and their examples can pave the way for fellow providers to gain positive outcomes from telehealth solutions. By publishing reports on telehealth and otherwise spreading best practices, KLAS hopes to help more and more provider organizations cross the bridge toward valuable telehealth experiences. This year, we’ll be looking deeper into both the remote patient monitoring and virtual care platform vendor solutions to provide insight.


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