Effectively scaling a telemedicine program requires much more than the right technology, Avera eCare’s Deanna Larson believes. In particular, success is dependent on patience and a good ear.
“The best thing you can do when you’re out there trying to build a telemedicine network is listen,” said Larson, CEO of the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based telemedicine provider, speaking at the American Telemedicine Association’s Edge 2017 Fall Forum in Washington, D.C., this week.
“The people who are your naysayers are the ones you need to listen to,” she said. “They have a need; maybe they just aren’t saying it to you in a way you want to hear. Listen to what they’re saying and try to resolve their issue their way.”
By doing just that, Avera eCare, part of Avera Health, has expanded since 1993 to provide services to more than 300 locations across 14 states.
Why ‘White Glove’ Service Matters
Organizations also must consider simplicity in their approach to scaling, said Ross Friedberg, general counsel for telemedicine company Doctor on Demand.
“The technology is working when the patient doesn’t notice the technology,” he said. “The doctor has to be at the center of the visit, not the technology.”
Additionally, such services must provide what Friedberg calls “white glove” care, bending to meet patient needs. Because telehealth is still relatively new for a lot of patients, expectations are higher, he said.
“If they don’t have a good experience the first time … they’re not going to do it a second time,” Friedberg said.
Recognizing the Long-Term Value of Telemedicine
Shifting the conversation to reimbursement, Andrew Watson, vice president of clinical IT transformation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said that fundamentally, people already believe in telemedicine, and the industry must examine how such methodologies impact the long-term care of patients.
“I think we are at a … tipping point that value is here,” said Watson, who is also president-elect of the ATA’s board of directors. “Part of the challenge is that we tend to study 30, 60, 90 days, but what the payers are now looking at is really the long-term impact of these types of services on populations. So, it’s not just the occasional retinal exam; it’s how, over the lifespan of the member, do these services fit in, not as an additive service, but as a replacement service.”
Payers increasingly are seeing such technology and services as mission critical, Watson added.
“I personally don’t see how healthcare can exist in the future without telehealth and telemedicine,” he said.