Why Telehealth Is Critical to Health Care Transformation

Telehealth Strategy Report cover

What’s New?

While hospitals and health systems are exploring virtual care models as part of their overall transformation strategy to improve access and value and reduce costs, wide variation exists in their tactics, rates of adoption and maturity levels in leveraging telehealth technology. These are some of the key issues explored in a new Market Insights report from the AHA Center for Health Innovation.

The report — Telehealth: A Path to Virtual Integrated Care — is based on information and insights from hospital and health system leaders and other health care experts, surveys of providers and research articles. Among other issues, the report examines the flexibility of delivery platforms and how they fit into integrated care; why telehealth is critical to health care transformation; the state of telehealth and opportunities for growth in hospitals; and, most importantly, how providers can build capacity to expand access, improve outcomes and reduce costs. Two companion pieces — Telehealth Assessment: 25 Questions for Leadership Teams and Your Guide to the Telehealth Tech Market — are available exclusively to AHA members.

What It Means

These are important areas of focus for health care leaders as they develop and advance their organization’s digital health strategies. Organizations that are now working to increase the maturity of their telehealth capabilities will be well-positioned to meet patient demands for tools that allow them to conveniently engage in care. The report also notes that hospitals that don’t address these expectations increasingly will be challenged by new market entrants and other disruptors that seek to attract new consumers and encroach upon existing patient-provider relationships.

A recent Accenture survey supports this point, noting large increases between 2016 and 2019 in the percentage of patients who are more likely to choose providers with various digital capabilities. For instance, more than half of patients surveyed are more likely to choose providers who have digital capabilities in such areas as booking appointments, requesting prescription refills and communicating with providers via secure email. And 49 percent want to be able to communicate with their providers through video conferencing — up from 36 percent in 2016.

Will providers be able to keep pace with these rising consumer expectations? A Hospital Telehealth Maturity Model developed by Manatt Health for the AHA’s Market Insights report provides a valuable framework that can be used to measure and develop existing and prospective telehealth services by program and platform with prescribed best-practice parameters. The model may be useful for self-assessment and benchmarking to guide telehealth programs toward the adoption of best practices. It examines telehealth-use cases by organization type (community hospitals, health systems and academic medical centers) and community setting (urban, rural and critical access hospitals) and provides case studies for each setting.

3 Ways to Scale and Optimize Telehealth Programs

Regardless of where your organization is along the telehealth maturity spectrum, here are three areas to optimize your program’s value. Get the full list in the Market Insights report.

  1. Use community and patient needs as the starting points for considering new telehealth services. Many telehealth services go fallow because they started with interest by a physician or the finance office. Serve patients first, and physicians and reimbursement will follow.
  2. Incorporate telehealth services into value-based care. Telehealth services are an effective way to drive down care delivery costs, making them valuable tools to use in value-based reimbursement models that reward providers for lower utilization costs.
  3. Use telehealth services to coordinate care across care settings. Optimize telehealth usage by tracking the health status of patients after discharge. Remotely monitoring their health at home or in post-acute care settings can lead to better outcomes and lower costs.

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