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By Sarah C. Threnhauser

There has been a substantial increase in the number of organizations using telehealth technologies. For organizations over $25 million in revenue, 44% are using telehealth technologies, compared to 15% just a year ago. Even for smaller organizations (under $25 million), the adoption increase has been impressive, rising from 10% to 33% (see The Tech-Enabled Provider Organization: The 2017 OPEN MINDS Health & Human Services Technology Survey).

But telehealth adoption is only a good start—many provider organizations are faced with a big gap between the potential in telehealth tech, and the reality of using that tech today. Even if your executive team has little doubt that telehealth is both capable and poised to change how health and human services are delivered, there are still some fundamental challenges that need addressed. That was a key message from The 2018 OPEN MINDS Performance Management Institute session, Best Practices & Lessons Learned: Integrating Pharmacy & Telepsychiatry To Deliver Better Care, featuring Cindy Davis-Bryant, State Director, Family Preservation Services of North Carolina; Bill Rider, Chief Executive Officer, The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester; and Neal Bowen, MD, Chief Mental Health Officer, Hidalgo Medical Services.

During this session, I kept thinking about a NEJM Catalyst article I read last summer, Four Challenges of Launching a Telehealth Program, that laid out four important factors that provider organizations need to master when adopting telehealth.

Liability & Regulations—Does telehealth create or enhance practice liabilities (see Assessing Your Organization’s Readiness For Telehealth)? Liability arises when new tech, new service models, and new staffing models (out-of-state provider organizations) are put into practice.

Licensure—Telehealth makes it possible to deliver services across state lines, and if provider organizations are going to do that, licensure requirements need to be sorted out (see The On-The-Ground Reality Of Making Telehealth Work). All three presenters discussed the challenges of professionals retiring, or moving out of the state for lifestyle changes. Done correctly, telehealth offers a balance of availability across geography.

Reimbursement—How can provider organizations get paid for telehealth delivered services? The challenge is that telehealth billing isn’t standard across different states, or payers (see Telehealth Billing – Easier Than You Think?). Mr. Rider explained that in New Hampshire, Medicaid was tied to Medicare rules, which states that telehealth could only be reimbursed in rural areas and not in Manchester, where he’s located. In response, The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester went to the state legislature and got the law changed.

Workflow—Provider organizations need to sort out how scheduling, and then care delivery works in a telehealth program. Some process will overlap with how traditional care is delivered, and some will not (see No Workflow, No Tech Success). All three presenters reported scheduling the same as traditional services, with the addition of an assistant to help consumers with technical issues.

For more on technology strategy, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. Your Tech Functionality Checklist For Value-Based Reimbursement
  2. The Tech Checklist For Value-Based Contracting Success
  3. You Have An EHR, But Can You Share Data?
  4. Technology = Data = Management
  5. Financial Optimization – Getting Paid For What You Do
  6. The Strategy Of Tech Investment
  7. How To Build A Successful Technology Plan: From Innovation & Strategy, To Budgeting & Selection
  8. More Tools For Tech ROI

If you want to learn more, join us at our first summit focused on clinical innovation-“Designing & Implementing Innovative Treatment Programs: An OPEN MINDS Executive Summit & Showcase”, at The 2018 OPEN MINDS Management Best Practices Institute on August 14 in Long Beach, California.

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