Kelly Spiers believes that healthcare and long-term post-acute care providers should measure telemedicine success, not necessarily in dollars saved or earned, but rather in healthy outcomes and improved provider and patient relationships.
Speaking at the American Telemedicine Association’s annual conference in Chicago on Monday, Spiers, a technology leader at Idaho-based Visions Home Health, called success in telemedicine difficult but attainable for LTPAC organizations with the right mindset.
“I think we’ve sat in the conference for 14 hours, and I don’t remember anybody having a great strategy about how telemedicine generates cash,” Spiers said. “There are CPT codes we can build; if you raise your hand in the audience, out of the 4,000 people, maybe five of those people do it, because it’s hard. And it’s scary because you don’t get paid.”
Spiers said he considers success at his organization — which has deployed technology for remote patient monitoring, video visits and survey questionnaires — to be better information for and about individuals. Through technology, the organization is able to provide detailed data to loved ones on patients via mobile devices.
“If you’ve worked in a [skilled nursing facility] long enough, you know that Suzy can be a pain in the butt about her mom,” he said. “She wants to know how her mom is doing, every minute on the minute for the next 36 minutes. In this way, we’re able to provide that information to her. She can access that information through her smartphone. She can see how her mom is doing, four states away.”
Telemedicine, in that hypothetical situation, Spiers said, freed up 45 minutes for a nurse who didn’t have to call Suzy five times a week to explain that her mom is doing OK.
“Instead, she can look it up on her smartphone, and she can see how it’s going. It’s created customer satisfaction,” Spiers said.
Deploy Telemedicine Technology Meaningfully
Bobby Choi, chief strategy officer and founding partner of Collain Healthcare, agreed with Spiers, saying that organizations shouldn’t simply deploy telemedicine for the sake of deploying telemedicine.
“I think that’s really important,” Choi said. “You don’t want to force this on the staff when it’s counter to culture — when it’s not achieving anything for the physician.”
From a vendor perspective, he said, success should be less about selling and invoicing a customer and more about fully aligning with a client’s needs.
“If [a program] isn’t creating an outcome, if it’s not creating some sort of savings, then the program really shouldn’t exist,” Choi said. “It’s kind of putting the vendors on notice that they need to create programs that don’t just add costs to the healthcare delivery process.”
Focus on Culture Change in Telehealth
Spiers added that, for LTPAC providers to truly find success in telemedicine, culture must be factored into all collaborations, whether with vendors or other providers. When seeking out physician partners to provide telemedicine consultations to his patient population, he initially asked the biggest provider in town to participate, offering to help him generate more visits.
“He said, ‘Well, sign me up!’” Spiers said. “We get all the stuff there, we sit down, we teach him how to do it. I bought a camera, we got him set up. Want to guess how many visits he did? Zero.”
The doctor always had a reason why he couldn’t conduct visits, Spiers said, whether it was a lack of time or unwilling staff. After asking several other large providers in the area, Spiers finally found a doctor who was more interested in using technology to connect with patients in a different way.
“Figure out what the culture is in that office,” Spiers said about vetting potential partners. “The smallest provider might be the best provider because they want to touch the patient more — they’re totally invested in their healthcare. That kind of doctor is the one that’s going to be totally invested in finding new ways to provide better care.
“The culture of where you’re going has to match the culture of what you’re doing,” he said.
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