Why implementing telehealth is not just an IT project - MedCity News

Demand for telemedicine has increased over the past two years from both patients and providers. McKinsey & Company estimates that telehealth adoption has risen to 38 times pre-2020 levels and 40% to 60% of consumers are open to broader virtual health options. So why aren’t more health systems engaged in initiatives to implement robust telehealth solutions?

The answer is likely rooted in three major misconceptions surrounding health technology adoption. When healthcare organizations can dispel their deeply held myths about telehealth adoption, they can avoid the pitfalls common to implementing a telehealth solution, implement successful change management, and better serve their communities.

The biggest stumbling blocks in telehealth project management

The main misconception is that telehealth is solely the responsibility of the IT department. It’s not. Telehealth implementation should be a joint responsibility of IT, administration and providers. Otherwise, the lack of teamwork between departments leads to separation and a lot of handing off of the telemedicine “hot potato” to those who don’t have all the information.

You might think of this problem as similar to giving someone a puppy they didn’t ask for and expecting them to take care of it and raise it. A puppy is great for people who like dogs, want a dog, are not allergic to dogs, and have the time and resources to care for a dog. However, a puppy that is foisted on someone without their input during the selection process is at risk of being unwanted and neglected. The same can happen when you assign one team to “gift” a telehealth platform to the rest of the organization. Other teams that have no stake in the selection or execution of the project may not understand its importance in the ecosystem and may resent being saddled with yet another mandatory workflow.

Overcoming this misconception requires the implementation of a telehealth platform to have shared ownership across the organization. All decisions about new telehealth projects should be made with honest, informed feedback from all stakeholders at every stage, from selection to implementation.

The second misconception that hinders implementation is that telehealth is a product. Telehealth is a much broader solution than just a product. Instead of looking for a platform just for video visits, healthcare providers should look at telehealth as a broader patient care experience. A myriad of products or processes can support this experience, but one product or service does not suddenly turn on the “telehealth switch.” To be successful, you need to think of telehealth as a personalized delivery method that considers all user perspectives and expectations.

A final misconception about telemedicine is that the use of telehealth must be part of a corporate-wide mandate. “You will begin using telehealth on this date,” your company might say. While mandates can be helpful, they don’t include the empathy you need to get buy-in from all providers.

Remember that for some employees, telehealth can seem like more work. Without proper training, ample practice, and the shared understanding that perfection is not an expectation from day one, users may fall back into their personal comfort zones. Consulting with stakeholders before implementing a telehealth initiative is a way to show inclusiveness and consideration for end users, as it offers the best opportunity to engage all layers of a healthcare facility’s workforce.

Three tips for getting telehealth right for your organization

If you don’t already have a robust telehealth platform, now is the time to start talking about it. Below are some ways to build awareness, passion and buy-in for telemedicine in your organization. Each helps you avoid the pitfalls of the three misconceptions noted above and get the most out of your telehealth offering to the community you serve.

  1. Identify technical solutions that will integrate with your team’s existing workflows.

A big concern among healthcare workers is that integrating a telehealth product – even a great one – will disrupt their daily processes and procedures. Fortunately, delays and frustration don’t have to be the norm. Solutions are available that can tie into your team members’ existing workflows and minimize disruption. It’s all about finding the right solution that integrates seamlessly with the way your teams work.

As part of your efforts, be sure to identify all stakeholders with open-minded, pro-change parties to bring into the discussion. Do this by determining who will be affected first by any implementation of a telehealth solution. (Eventually, everyone will be, but focus on the early adopters as you get started.) Then involve those stakeholders in the decision-making process. Aim to only choose telehealth solutions that will feel as intuitive as possible, instead of disruptive.

  1. Accept that change will be difficult and give the implementation of the telehealth solution the time it deserves.

People in clinical settings may have hundreds or thousands of workflows, processes, rules and protocols. Consider organizational change management strategies as you roll out telehealth platforms or products. Even a platform that integrates effortlessly into existing workflows can be met with horror and problems. Allow this necessary processing time for your patients and providers and give new telehealth initiatives time to grow on top of them.

This doesn’t mean you should let employees revert to old workflows or give up on converting; successful implementation requires momentum. But don’t just roll out new telehealth technologies to your team. Guide them through a detailed, well-thought-out onboarding process that eases their experience. Communicate early and often, respect your team’s time to adjust, ask for meaningful feedback, and when it makes sense to do so, adapt your decision based on lessons learned.

  1. Bring your training department into the mix.

Education is your most powerful ally in the success of any telemedicine initiative, so your training department will play a huge role in any new telehealth strategy. End users will need support, which can come in the form of classes, workshops and hands-on practice. Educated workers are less likely to be adamant in their dislike of new workflows, especially as they become more comfortable using telehealth products and platforms. Staff training can also be critical to anticipating the learning curve and adoption, so early onboarding is vital.

Providing regular training has the secondary effect of highlighting your empathic leadership. Stakeholders will see that you want to give them all the materials and information they need to feel competent and supported.

Even after you finalize your implementation and training plan, accept that you will need to make changes, especially early on. You can’t plan everything. Yes, your plan should be well researched before any training begins, but know that your training materials may require customization and are bound to evolve.

Telehealth will involve multiple systems in your organization, including technology, patient care, support, and more. Don’t make the role of telehealth in your organization solely the responsibility of the IT department. If you want to bring telemedicine to your internal and external users with real success, you need to treat it as a tool for everyone to own, use and appreciate. Inclusivity and collaboration will win the day.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images

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