Telemedicine and Patient Portals as Urgent IT Initiatives: It’s Happening Faster Than Projected
The results of Peak 10’s 2nd National IT Trends in Healthcare Study support a fast-growing trend within the healthcare industry. Telemedicine and patient portals are top-priority for healthcare IT leaders, and implementation is happening even faster than the medical community thought it would. Research suggests that full adoption will take place over the next five years, but based on the input we received from survey respondents, we expect to see that trend accelerate in the next 18-24 months.
Healthcare organizations at large are getting more comfortable with telemedicine and patient portals, particularly in the midst of an industry that is being measured primarily on patient satisfaction—the integration of new, more interactive technologies are needed, and they’re playing a major role.
In short, telemedicine and patient portals are fundamentally changing the patient and provider experience from top to bottom, and security, uptime and a consistently positive adoption rate are all concerns as patient access to healthcare data evolves.
The Forces Behind Real-time Patient Access to Healthcare Data
Most of the IT leaders we talked to for the healthcare study emphasized that they’ve either already implemented telemedicine and/or patient portals, or would be doing so within the next 12 months—and they all had similar reasons for doing so.
The rising awareness of security vulnerabilities makes a lot of folks in healthcare wary when it comes to an application like a patient portal, but integrating such an initiative makes information and patient care more transparent and available. It also increases efficiencies when a doctor’s office, for example, has the ability to allow a physician’s assistant to triage a patient remotely and provide care solutions without necessarily having to tie up a doctor’s appointment, waiting room or patient’s travel time. That kind of convenience is better for the patient, provider and more efficient for the healthcare system as a whole.
Jennifer Camps, Director of Clinical Systems for one our customers, Moffitt Cancer Center, also provided insight into what’s driving portal integration:
“When we initially asked our patients how they would feel about having access to their healthcare information, they overwhelmingly told us that knowledge is power. Today we have nearly 85,000 unique portal users, and it’s because it’s their medical information, they should have access to it, and they want access to it.”
Portals and telemedicine are largely driven by the fact that patients should be able to see their own medical history and treatment plans. After all, it is their health data—they have a right to it.
“Also, having information ahead of follow-up appointments makes it a more seamless experience for the patient. Rather than being given news on-the-spot at their follow-up appointment and feeling overwhelmed, they’re better prepared to take ownership of their own healthcare plans and ask the appropriate questions, which ultimately allows them to make more informed decisions,” Camps added.
Further, as long as the implementation for portal and telemedicine technology is reliable and secure, overall, you have a significantly more efficient healthcare system. In the case of telemedicine, for instance, it provides yet another level of patient engagement, particularly for facilities with patients throughout the U.S. and international. Healthcare organizations who implement a virtual health strategy that includes televisits can save both provider and patient time and money.
When we asked Jennifer about hesitation toward a portal, she explained that in the beginning, there was some level of concern that giving patients access to information might increase call volume in the clinic—if a patient received new information, they’d probably want to talk about it.
“The result has been the opposite. Call volume has decreased because the patients have access to the information at their fingertips. Inquiries are not necessary because patients can already see their healthcare data. Overall, it streamlines processes and increases efficiencies for all parties.”
Patients Have Better Engagement, Hospitals Have Better Budgets
Another key takeaway generated by the healthcare study was that marked increase in IT budgets among healthcare organizations—67% are expecting an increase in the next 24 months. While healthcare organizations have a lot of areas in which to allocate money and may operate within relatively tight margins, making the most of budgets to support a positive adoption rate is key.
A few quick tips on securing the greatest efficiency for your patient portal/telemedicine spend…
- Consider working with technology specialists in areas lacking resources to allow your team to focus on core missions
- Be deliberate in budgeting for what is truly critical from a resource and fiscal perspective
- Consult executive leadership and determine priority versus what can be deferred
Successfully Implementing and Managing Portals and Telemedicine
It’s a job that requires a team; that much is clear.
“Patient satisfaction is about solid customer service: how you present yourself, how you market, and how the patient feels about the hospital.” – CIO at NC hospital
“We have a team that’s solely dedicated to the patient portal,” Camps said. “Since the fall of 2010, the Portal Technologies team as grown from a team of one to a team of five, including a Web and Mobile Application Architect, Web Developer, Web Designer and System Analyst. This dedicated team, along with the continued involvement from Moffitt’s Patient & Family Advisory Council, has contributed to high adoption and utilization rates.”
The path to successful implementation and maintenance is different for every healthcare organization and depends on size, needs and resources, but generally, keeping a few best practices in mind will support the process:
- Make uptime a priority—downtime will cost your organization more than preventing it will.
- Implement a strong security strategy—portals and telemedicine are excellent tools, but they create more vulnerabilities. If you do not have a strong engineering staff seasoned in security, talking to a technology partner who can help will be critical.
- Support a positive adoption rate—new technologies will not be useful without a consistently positive user adoption rate. Make sure that patients understand how to sign up for and use their portal and keeping users in the loop on updates will enable the adoption rate you expect.
Additional Healthcare Tech Resources
Peak 10’s 2nd National IT Trends in Healthcare Study covered a lot of ground where technology is concerned, extending far beyond the integration of telemedicine and patient portals.
See the Peak 10 Industry Spotlight: Healthcare IT website—there are a wide range of resources available.