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Top Three Questions to Ask During a Telemedicine Demo

Posted by James Baker, Chief Medical Officer on May 7, 2020 11:30:46 AM
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The latest surveys show that telemedicine usage was increasing even before the COVID-19 crisis. As the pandemic hit, telehealth tools played a key role in helping patients retain social distancing while still receiving healthcare. Several months into the pandemic, the benefits of telemedicine are becoming clearer each day, as providers face the realities of living under a global pandemic. With the American College of Physicians calling for practices to replace in-office visits with telehealth or delay non-urgent in-person medical appointments, and organizations such as the CDC recommending the virtual visit, even the smallest medical practice will likely take the steps necessary to adopt telemedicine tools into their standard workflows.

If your practice is considering telemedicine, you will have several videoconferencing providers to choose from, including commercial tools such as Zoom or GoToMeeting. While these technologies are not typically HIPAA-compliant, CMS recently waived HIPAA requirements to allow more clinicians to easily and quickly adopt telehealth tools for use for patient care. But should providers consider any telehealth carrier that lacks industry-standard protections for patient health data? How could the average practitioner, that has substantial medical knowledge, but may have a rudimentary knowledge of telehealth technologies, decide which virtual tool is best for their practice?

Before you take your next telemedicine demo, here are three important questions to ask your telehealth vendor.

1. Is the telemedicine application easy to use?

For most smaller practices, it is a necessity to be able to set up and leverage a telemedicine tool without the use of an IT professional. Most small and even many mid-size practice networks do not have a dedicated IT resource, and many leverage existing personnel to perform IT functions, according to Medical Economics. Lacking these resources means that these practices have very little time, energy, or expertise to implement a telemedicine solution that is anything less than “plug and play.” This makes ease-of-use for any technology a practice imperative.

Many practices have lived through or heard about the frustrations of on-site installations, failed interoperability, and workflow disruptions when adding technologies such as practice management or EHR software. The Atlantic shared their analysis of why doctors are often so reluctant to adopt new technologies. They suggested many doctors believe the cost and workflow disruption of adding a new technology was often not worth the switch from a more manual process.

But it’s not just the installation process for new technologies causing frustration in the practice. Once the technology is installed, is it simple and intuitive to use? Can your near-retirement doctors use it as easily as clinicians fresh out of residency? What about patients? Can a 70-year old transition from an in-person visit to a screen application as easily as a 17-year old?

A 2019 peer-reviewed Health Informatics Journal study looked at physician and patient satisfaction with telehealth technology. Researchers found that ease-of-use was a critical factor affecting adoption of these tools. The research indicated:

Perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness of telemedicine services
were found to influence physicians’ behavioral intentions. This resulted in
increased efficiency, quality of services, quality patient care delivery,
and satisfaction among physicians in using telemedicine services.

This data suggests that the ease-of-use of a telemedicine platform is a critical component of the vendor selection process.

Here are questions to ask your telemedicine provider:

  • What is the installation process for the technology?
  • Can I set up these tools without a dedicated IT resource?
  • Can the technology be used on any digital device?
  • Will my practice or patients need to purchase any special equipment?

Look for telemedicine platforms that download easily from the Internet on common digital devices like your cell phone or tablet. The app should be simple to use, with clean interfaces and intuitive workflows that make sense for the average medical practice. Also look for hands-on vendor support for patients and clinicians from the telemedicine provider.


2. How secure is the platform?

HIPAA requires high standards for patient confidentiality. Your telemedicine vendor should take steps to secure PHI data from encroachment. This requires the encryption of data while at rest and in transit over the Internet from the doctor’s computer portal to the patient’s cellphone—or wherever the information is sent or communication occurs. Endpoints such as tablets or laptops can cause big security risks for healthcare providers, however, encryption scrambles the signal for anyone not participating in the teleconference, thus making these calls more secure.

With that said, consumer grade videoconferencing solutions typically do not pass HIPAA standards. While the latest CMS rules have loosened these restrictions for the time being, this is a temporary situation. Selecting a fully HIPAA-compliant telemedicine solution now will withstand any rollbacks to prior rules after the coronavirus quarantines are over.

Here are questions to ask your telemedicine provider:

  • Does your solution have fully encrypted data transmission?
  • Is the video stored by the practice? If the video isn’t archived, there is less risk.
  • Are the network connections secure?
  • Will the vendor sign a Business Associate Agreement that specifies how information is stored or cared for by the telemedicine provider?

General videoconferencing services such as Skype are not fully HIPAA compliant. To protect your practice and patients, seek a telemedicine vendor that follows HIPAA security best practices.

3. Can the telemedicine solution integrate with my practice management, billing, and EHR software?

If your practice uses an EHR, your workflows are likely built around these technologies. Understanding how telemedicine will impact these workflows is a critical part of vendor selection. How is documentation competed? An easy workaround is to have the videoconference occurring on one screen while a tablet documents the visit directly into the EHR. Or, the vendor may be able to fully integrate their solution, particularly if the EHR is cloud-based instead of an on-premise installation.

Here are questions to ask your telemedicine provider:

  • Can I use this with my EHR?
  • Will the doctor or midlevel need two screens; one for the videoconference and one for the EHR?
  • What kind of EHR and billing platform integration is available?
  • Can I e-prescribe?
  • What kind of technical support to you have?

Your practices has a number of important decisions to weigh when considering a telemedicine provider. However, there is one solution that meets the criteria we've outlined and is an affordable offering for even the smallest practice.

SpringHealth Live: Easy, Secure, Integrated Telemedicine Application

SpringHealth Live is a telemedine app designed for ease-of-use, HIPAA-compliance, and EHR integration. Designed by an M.D., this application brings an affordable solution to even the smallest practice.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends the use of telehealth tools like SpringHealthLive to protect patients and providers while offering quality healthcare services. Talk with our team today.



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