4 Ways to Advance Telehealth Through Innovation

New tools and ways of thinking can help ensure that telemedicine continues to align with providers' business interests.

When it comes to telehealth adoption, it appears that the industry has reached the tipping point.

Increased consumer demand, research activity and investment in telehealth are all at a stage where the “law of accelerating returns” suggests that technological advances will be exponential rather than linear, and that as the technology increasingly proves itself to be effective greater resources will need to be deployed towards furthering its reach and impact.

In addition to advances through technology research and development, assessments of telehealth and the capacity for innovation should also consider the legal and regulatory considerations governing use practices and coverage. The ability to effectively connect both the technology-enabled model of care delivery with the business model for managing care will promote greater adoption and, since organizational change management is central to successful implementation and integration at scale, evidence of best practices that can inform strategies for the effective redesign of workflow and managing data in a process of continuous learning and adaptation are critical.

But there's more that can be done to encourage new ground in telehealth.

At a two-day conference in September hosted by the Transatlantic Telehealth Research Network and sponsored by CDW Healthcare that brought together industry experts and forward-thinking providers to discuss telehealth industry accomplishments to date, these healthcare pioneers found that research in areas of service innovation can also contribute to advancing the design of innovative service business models.

Here are a few of the innovation practices that these industry leaders suggest healthcare providers can take on in order to encourage success in the area of telemedicine:

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1. Think Outside of the Traditional Telemedicine Box

Although incremental innovation is the dominant form of innovation in the healthcare sector, it is time to start thinking “out of the box” and be bolder if not more radical in how we envision and approach future challenges in healthcare. A radical or disruptive innovation is one that involves a significantly different approach to addressing challenges within the healthcare sector, while incremental innovation concerns an improvement to an existing product, service, process, or method whose performance has been significantly enhanced or upgraded as a result.

To meet the challenges of more elderly, chronically ill patients and the lack of hospital beds, new approaches to designing services using technologies that can help address the challenges confronting the global healthcare system need to be envisioned. Radical innovation is generally a complex process, rather than a discrete event, and generally implies a more challenging, lengthy and risky process. The diffusion of radical innovations nearly always depends on incremental improvements, refinements and modifications.

Within the healthcare system there is an increasing imperative to learn how to create radical innovation. Involvement of the end user will also be a critical part of future innovation in the healthcare system in order to design more tailored solutions.

2. Leverage Advances in Consumer Technologies

In the near term, telehealth will continue to leverage consumer technologies, such as mobile communication platforms and advances in synergistic technology areas such as sensors and data analytics, to expand access for populations to virtual care services that can be delivered synchronously, remotely, and on demand.

Internet of Things (IoT)-based services and the use of wearable sensors and other connected care technologies will enable a greater capacity for remote monitoring and making healthcare data more readily available for analysis and use in providing feedback to empower individuals to self-manage aspects of their health.

Connected smart home technologies from Amazon, Google and Apple, for example, are positioned to become the de facto personal digital health assistants and to serve as the home hub to support device connectivity and integrate data flow. As virtual care becomes more mainstream, consumer experiences of healthcare services will become increasingly blended in terms of their physical and online world interactions, new practice guidelines and standardized operational practices will emerge to assure consistent delivery and quality of care services, and opportunities for value creation and capture will emerge for different stakeholders. However, legal, ethical and social implications are also likely to come to the fore with these advances in the form of privacy and security concerns.

In many ways, interoperability is key to data analytics for improved outcomes while cybersecurity is critical for achieving telehealth at scale.

Another example is the Danish Future Patient research project that focuses on telerehabilitation of patients with heart failure where heart patients use step counters, sleep sensors and social media to track disease progression and symptom management.

3. Speed Time To Market With New Test-beds for Innovation

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) characterizes the innovation process as combinatorial, a reflection of the likelihood for system changing gains to come from aligning multiple and oftentimes complementary technologies rather than there being a silver bullet to address challenges.

Building on the concept of combinatorial innovation, the NHS recently established a test-bed initiative to implement and evaluate innovations in defined geographic areas that reflect place-based plans for the future of health and care services and require local stakeholders to work collaboratively to create sustainable financing models. Test-bed innovations combine technologies from fields as diverse as biosensors, medtech and drug discovery, mobile communications, and artificial intelligence. To promote faster uptake and spread, the NHS has also launched an innovation diffusion funding mechanism, the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA), to fast-track tried-and-tested medtech devices and apps through an explicit national reimbursement route that guarantees automatic reimbursement when an approved innovation is used.

Telehealth innovations supported by NIA include telehealth-related applications such as the MyCOPD self-management app and the AliveCor remote monitoring app.

4. Support Organizations Seeking to Successfully Implement Solutions

While telehealth aligns with the strategic transformation of health systems as providers transition to a value-based payment system (i.e., redesigning care delivery processes to realize efficiencies in workflow and productivity, increased patient engagement and satisfaction, improved clinical and financial outcomes), this transition requires significant investment, resources and planning. In addition, change management practices are critical on the part of provider organizations if technology-enabled service innovations are to be realized in practice and at scale. The dynamic and evolving telehealth ecosystem and infrastructure also requires a greater level of collaboration between stakeholders, and service business models will most likely need to be reconceptualised and continuously adapted as technology-enabled services models evolve.

In the U.S., for example, more investment in research into service innovations to promote alternative care delivery models has been called for. It is estimated that out of every $100 spent on healthcare, less than 30 cents is spent on improving how care is delivered (total of $5.0 billion or 0.3% of total healthcare expenditures) and, among 22 industries, health systems rank 19th (0.1% of revenue) and private insurers rank last (0.04% of revenue) in their investments in innovation.

Check out our white paper "Telehealth Innovation: Current Directions and Future Opportunities" for a closer look at how telehealth represents both a model for care delivery and a business model for managing care.

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Feb 26 2018