How Penn Medicine looks at telehealth from the patient perspective

The benefits of telemedicine are no longer being debated. Clearly, convenience and efficiencies are associated with providing this level of service to the patient community.  This is particularly true for people that live in remote locations, need post-surgical treatment, require second opinions, or don’t have easy access to specialists. It’s also been a satisfier to those looking to better manage their own health or avoid emergency room visits when dealing with chronic diseases.

Much of the discussion about telehealth has thus far addressed the benefits to hospitals, health systems and other organizations providing care services.  As telemedicine becomes more of a commodity and this market space grows more competitive, however, it is going to be important to consider the implications and benefits from a patient’s perspective.  The lack of geographical boundaries associated with virtual visits will ultimately influence which organizations are able to secure higher numbers of patients.

As a starting point, let's look at what is important from a patient’s perspective when considering telemedicine services and telemedicine encounters. 

The most important is the quality of patient care but ranking not far behind is the quality of the technology and the experience. Feedback suggests that one without the other leaves the patient dissatisfied and frustrated.

For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the quality of the technology and the experience. First, let’s assume that through telemedicine services we can eliminate frustrating commute and parking times, waiting room times, and lengthy registration processes. Right off the bat, we have set up what should be a much more effective encounter for the patient. Now, let’s further assume that you can provide telemedicine services that are secure, private, reliable, intuitive and can leverage the technology that the patient has available. These are the foundational components for the delivery of an effective telemedicine capability.

As we have looked at the most effective way to make this easy and intuitive for the patient community, we sought to integrate the telemedicine services with the patient portal that is being used by many of our patient population. Early work in this area has been very successful and shows great promise. Right alongside that, we have worked hard to ensure that the services are tightly integrated with our EHR so that the encounter becomes part of the patient’s record.  Patients have valued a single tool to enable their communications with our organization particularly since this same tool can be used for scheduling and reminders. Some patients also seem to understand the value proposition associated with such electronic health record integration.

Let's dig in deeper and look at some of the things that will become expectations over time around the quality of the technology and experience.  From a technology perspective, it needs to be reliable, affordable and deliver a certain level of system performance. If it’s slow or unreliable, the service will not meet patient expectations. While there are two sides to this process, provider organizations are going to have to ensure that they have the right technologies in place.  From a system performance perspective, it’s not just about speed and connectivity.  It’s also about audio clarity, video resolution, lighting and motion handling. Patients will also come to expect customer service support around scheduling and technical support.

At some point, patients will expect to conduct these types of telemedicine encounters much like they access the internet today or even access Apple TV and other like services. It will have to be easy to initiate and work flawlessly.  Hospitals and health systems will have some time to tune their delivery, but those organizations that get there first will have some definitive advantages and potentially even a big part of the patient market share.

Delivering these type of services from a provider perspective requires some planning and execution. It will be important to have some governance in place that can help decide which telemedicine programs should be prioritized. These governance boards can also help to identify the right funding and resources to get this right. Marketing needs to be engaged so that an advertising program can help to articulate the services that are available to the patient community. Lastly, the IT organizations will have to be tightly aligned with the business on this front.

Implementing the right technology and making the right investments is going to be crucial.  These systems are going to have to be architected for both scalability and resiliency.

Provider organizations that consider the patient’s perspectives around quality expectations and can provide high-quality patient care will be very well positioned to lead the field on telemedicine services.

Organizations that don’t get there quickly or struggle to have reliable and intuitive approaches, on the other hand, will be playing catch up.

John Donohue is Associate Vice President – Enterprise Infrastructure Services of Penn Medicine.

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