Telemedicine and telehealth technology are already having an impact on health care, but many providers struggle to see the benefits.
Often it is a cultural struggle – leadership doesn’t provide enough support to the initiative or physicians are reluctant to change even if it is a benefit to patients.
Other times, it may be a problem with the technology. Not all telemedicine systems are created equal, and without the right technology the solution may become an impediment, rather than building the relationship between the patient and doctor.
A Close Look at Telemedicine Technology
Telehealth and telemedicine use telecommunications technology to aid healthcare providers in evaluating, diagnosing and treating patients over a distance.
This technology can take many forms. Even a phone call with a doctor can be considered telehealth. Video calls like Skype and webinar technology like ON24 are often marketed as a credible solution for telemedicine.
An effective telemedicine solution requires more than simple telecommunications capability to deliver benefits that enhance, rather than hinder, the patient-doctor relationship. Here are four critical criteria for an effective telehealth solution.
1) Display Technology
There are many options when it comes to display in telemedicine – including no display at all.
The most effective solutions should provide direct eye contact between the doctor and patient. Eye contact is critical in non-verbal communication that enhances trust and caring. An HD (high-definition) life-size image will also reduce the perceived distance between the doctor and patient.
Working from a small screen like a smart phone or even a laptop will be a constant reminder of that distance and make the interaction feel impersonal.
2) Camera and Sound
The camera, and camera set-up, are critical for supporting direct eye contact. With a poorly designed solution, the doctor will look at the screen rather than directly at the camera. Lighting is also important. A solution that provides integrated lighting will reduce or eliminate the shadows and dark areas that can reduce the effectiveness of the telemedicine session.
Directional microphones provide more control over the video experience, and are more effective than a laptop microphone. It is also important to use a solution that reduces ambient noise and potential distractions during a session.
3) Bandwidth and Technical Requirements
Medical information will be shared during most sessions, so you’ll need a system that provides secure transmission of information and is HIPAA compliant. Review the encryption protocols on the system, and evaluate the server and IP address that will be hosting the sessions.
Beyond security, the technical requirements for the solution may also be an issue. High-speed internet access is not available in many areas, especially in rural regions. If live HD video on the system requires significant bandwidth, then rural areas or regions with limited connectivity will be unable to use the solution.
4) Comfort and Convenience
Beyond these requirements, if a solution is difficult to use or requires technical expertise to use or significant maintenance, it will never see wide use. The healthcare provider and patient shouldn’t have to spend time fixing or setting-up a problematic system.
Look at how quickly the system can be set up, and how it will be accessed. Can the system be adjusted for different users? Is it comfortable for doctors to work in their office? Is it mobile, and will it provide the same functionality if it is moved to a different area? Sometimes what seems like the smallest inconvenience can negatively impact a telehealth program.
Getting Started with Telemedicine and Telehealth
Many healthcare systems and solution providers are looking at ways to repurpose existing technology for telemedicine. Video conferencing, for example, can with a little work and rebranding, be turned into a passable telehealth solution at first glance.
But a meaningful doctor-patient relationship is different than a business meeting. The direct eye contact that fosters trust isn’t necessary in the typical video conference. The high-speed internet connections enjoyed by businesses aren’t found in many rural healthcare facilities.
We suggest using this list of critical technology requirements as criteria for evaluating any telehealth and telemedicine solution. Review the direct-eye contact in a demo, and ask about the technical requirements of the solution. Do the research before implementing any solution.