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What’s Holding Telehealth Back?

Pete Metzgar

Strategic Account Manager at Yorktel

Latest posts by Pete Metzgar (see all)

Telehealth has made dramatic inroads in recent years. What once was only a futurist dream, is currently an every-day reality. Now that telehealth is within the treatment arsenals of most care providers, patients interact with their doctors and receive quality healthcare with no geographic limits.

Policy is catching up to this boon in technological advancement, making it easier than ever before for physicians, hospitals and health systems to both use and afford telemedicine. Telehealth use dramatically increased in 2015 and is continuing to do so in 2016. “This is, in large part, due to state lawmakers’ attempts to remove or ease common barriers to telemedicine expansion – including licensure and reimbursement,” according to Mintz Levin’s “Health Law and Policy Matters” blog.

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With all of these positive developments in its favor, what is holding telehealth back? In short, the answer is training. Clinicians still suffer for lack of knowing how to effectively use their new telemedicine equipment. Without proper and ongoing training, providers are left without the tools needed to make the deployment of telemedicine effective.

Having conducted several telehealth cart, and other equipment, training sessions over the past several months, I have realized one overarching reality. Technology is not always in the wheelhouse of nurses and physicians, though this is changing. Yet, even for physicians and nurses who are technologically savvy, learning new tools can be daunting. When presented with a new piece of equipment, some people liken it to a spaceship, filled with an array of, seemingly complicated set of dials and buttons. Luckily, telehealth is not rocket science. Providers who are effectively trained can be taught to use the equipment in about six hours. Following this initial half-day training, regular ongoing training updates will ensure ease of use.

How to Humanize Telehealth
There are several ways to ensure a smooth adoption of what may appear to be overwhelming telemedicine technology. Delivering education in a fashion that is relatable to users and easily understood expedites learning and ensures organization-wide endorsement of the product. Some of these tips include:

Take workflow into consideration. One of the biggest downfalls of healthcare IT has been the failure to take workflow into account when a product is developed. An electronic health record might have all the bells and whistles, for example, but if it is too hard for a nurse or a doctor to enter data while visiting with the patient, it will fail to succeed. The same is true of telehealth equipment. A good piece of equipment will take into account the workflow of the healthcare providers using it.

Make use of user champions. Healthcare organizations make great adoption headway when they rely on super users, or champions, of any new telehealth product. These champions advance adoption by leaps and bounds, as other providers observe that a peer has already mastered the equipment and has made their workday easier. Champions are usually nursing, IT or executive leaders—the people that understand the importance of telehealth and negotiate between the world of IT and healthcare fairly easily. Because they float between worlds and understand the pain points for both sides, they know what needs to be done to get telehealth operating at its best.

Ease the intimidation of telehealth. Sometimes, upon initial exposure to telemedicine, providers will express fears and a sense of being uncomfortable, but this is easily remedied by pretending the video screen is actually a person. Sure, it’s a TV screen, but the physician, nurse or the patient is still on the other side, and nothing to be intimidated by. It’s a matter of helping providers and patients feel comfortable with new surroundings. In light of this new familiarity, a telehealth cart can be seen as a friend—helpful and welcome—not as a foe.

Simplify. Upon initial exposure to a telehealth cart, some clinicians’ first impressions will be, “that looks too hard to learn.” Trainers can dissect everyday operations for all relevant use cases to help build their comfort levels and familiarity, and provide thorough instructions for troubleshooting potential issues. The right training and ongoing support will alleviate any concerns and reassure users that they are not in over their head. Breaking down training into simple steps helps eliminate barriers.

Make training fun. A good trainer will make sure that new users get their hands on the equipment as soon as possible. Telehealth equipment is exciting, so as soon as users try it, they become more confident. Using a variety of training methods also helps, including visual, auditory and of course, hands-on training. It’s also a good idea to ask for feedback after training sessions. Always look for ways to make training more fun. Training is always welcome, anticipated and expected whenever healthcare providers purchase telemedicine equipment.  I’m often asked, “When the training will begin?” This is encouraging.

Telehealth has really only just begun—it’s the tip of the iceberg—as virtual care becomes more and more a reality. It’s rewarding to see the empowerment that users and patients feel when they embrace telehealth. While telehealth is still feeling some resistance, more and more people are beginning to realize all of its potential for generating quality of care and access for every patient.