More than convenience: How leaders are leveraging telehealth to achieve their strategic plan
In early 2021, AvaSure partnered with Modern Healthcare Custom Media to survey healthcare leaders about their organizations’ use of telehealth technology in acute care and inpatient facilities. The survey contained several questions asked in a similar study in 2018. Responses from 173 executives paint a picture of how telehealth is currently being utilized at health systems, how that compares to the past, and how executives expect to utilize the technology in the years ahead.
Telehealth is being used to supplement care and support hard-to-recruit specialties
When asked how telehealth is being currently used at their organization, more leaders cited telepsychiatry than any other specialty. Fifty percent of leaders said their organization has a telepsychiatry program—a significant increase from 35 percent in our 2018 survey.
Other top telehealth uses cited in our 2021 survey include teleradiology (45 percent), telestroke (40 percent), tele-ICU (26 percent) and TeleSitting (26 percent).
Access, safety and workforce are key reasons for telehealth investment
When leaders were asked what telehealth services they plan to add in the next year, more leaders mentioned TeleSitting than any other service, with 19 percent of respondents noting that they are planning to implement the technology. The other top responses for future investment matched the top four uses cited by respondents for current use: telepsychiatry (17 percent), telestroke (16 percent), teleradiology (14 percent) and tele-ICU (14 percent). When asked about the top drivers of their telehealth purchasing decisions in 2021, leaders’ top responses were improving provider-to-patient access (52 percent), patient safety (43 percent), access to specialists (43 percent), workforce efficiencies (30 percent) and the caregiver shortage (26 percent). A majority of respondents said they plan to make some type of telehealth purchase in 2021.
Telehealth’s emerging role in health system enterprise strategy
When asked whether they agree that they are “pleased with the level of analytics and data [they] have regarding telehealth visits,” only 15 percent of respondents strongly agreed, compared to 32 percent who agreed. A notable 37 percent said they neither agree nor disagree with the statement, and 15 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
While our 2018 survey found that the majority of telehealth purchases were decided by the CNO (60 percent) and CMO (51 percent), the variety of leaders involved in these decisions has since shifted. The CEO and CFO went from being telehealth decisionmakers at only two to three percent of health systems in 2018 to over 40 percent of health systems in 2021. The top five decisionmakers cited in the 2021 survey included the CMO (55 percent), CNO (53 percent), CEO (45 percent), CFO (43 percent) and CIO (42 percent). The inclusion of more c-level executives in these decisions—especially the CEO and CFO—points to the newfound significance of telehealth to health systems’ long-term goals and overall strategies.
What is needed to evolve telehealth into a strategic asset
- Involve the C-suite and make telehealth an enterprise-level priority: As mentioned, an increasing variety of executives are involved in the telehealth purchasing process, and for good reason. If telehealth is the future of care, then it must have the buy-in and consideration of the highest leaders at hospitals and health systems. Health systems and hospitals should create a high-level executive position that is responsible for virtual care and ensure it reports to the C-suite, if not the CEO.
- Leverage telehealth to tackle the biggest challenges and the most promising opportunities: Telehealth has significant promise in its ability to both ease the burden on existing providers and support expansion of services that would otherwise be difficult to staff in person. As leaders look to implement telehealth in more acute-care settings, they should consider where clinical staff are most strained, where outcomes can be improved and where opportunity exists for additional revenue. For example, telepsychiatry is a high-demand specialty where hospitals may be able to provide billable services that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to offer. TeleSitting, teleradiology and tele-ICU similarly offer significant opportunity in their ability to improve the quality and productivity of patient care, while allowing bedside clinicians to focus on the most complex cases.
- Don’t cut corners in the purchasing process—buy the best-in-class products that fully serve organizational needs: It can be tempting to seek out an “all-in-one” solution, but bundled systems won’t always offer the level of sophistication or support needed. Leaders should seek out products that are customizable and directly solve for their most pressing challenges. There are sophisticated technology and services on the market that can help integrate disparate devices and ensure that they are reliable and fully addressing the needs of patients and clinicians.
- Harness the power of data to improve care efficiency and quality: Leaders should ensure that their telehealth platforms are collecting and analyzing data regarding clinical care and operations. Data on indicators such as utilization, productivity and staff responsiveness can support key business decisions that can shape the future of an organization.