Future success of telemedicine hinges on human interaction

Technology in healthcare--including telemedicine systems--while important to clinical care, is often developed only to support existing processes. In order for healthcare organizations to get the full potential out of IT systems, they must view development as integral and include it from the get-go, according to Jay Shore, director of telemedicine at the University of Colorado.

Shore (pictured right), who spoke Monday at the American Telemedicine Association's annual meeting in Baltimore on a panel about best practices for patient-centered care, said that today's technology is not built for natural human interaction, and that it only works in some casess because people are incredibly adaptive.

"Our systems aren't designed to undergo constant change," Shore said. "We really need to look at how we better design medical systems to be more adaptive and have more iterative processes. As we put together our modern, 21st century healthcare team, IT engineers need to be more embedded in those clinical processes from the beginning. We have a wonderful opportunity then to leverage our technology to redesign this system, the workflow and the communication."

Shore, who works daily with small, rural clinics, said that current technology-use expectations are not meaningful.

"We take a clinic that may be using straightforward technology at a relatively low use, and all of a sudden we take complex technology and expect everyone to adapt to those tools at high use," he said. "That just doesn't make sense to me. We really need to consider where the patients and providers are in the system."

Fellow panel member Wendy Deibert, vice president of telehealth services at St. Louis-based Mercy Health, reiterated Shore's points on natural human interaction in talking about the characteristics of a good telepresenter. The more that a telepresenter and a partnering physician know about each other, she said, the more they can ebb and flow with one another and not let potential technology issues interfere with care delivery.

"They're more tolerant to deal with those little troubles that crop up," Deibert (pictured left) said.

Deibert added that such relationships will help to ensure a patient's comfort and satisfaction.

"People remember people, they're not going to remember the technology," she said. "It's the compassion and the empathy that you put across that that will really hit home with a patient and make them want to come back for that next telehealth visit."

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