Telemedicine moving from novelty to necessity for hospitals

Tapping into telehealth may be the secret to long-term success for hospitals, according to an intriguing article published recently in Hospitals & Health Networks magazine. The piece opines that telehealth, with its lower cost and wider reach than in-person visits, quickly is becoming a competitive differentiator in some markets around the U.S.

Mark Probst, CIO for Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, tells H&HN that telehealth simply is a competitive requirement these days. "I don't see how the hospital CEO can ignore telemedicine," he says. "Busy tech-savvy patients will want more user-friendly access to healthcare and will be far more likely to use technical solutions to aid in this convenience."

American Telemedicine Association CEO Jonathan Linkous says Probst literally is right on the money. "Almost since the beginning, telemedicine has been looked at as a way to expand a hospital or health system's market footprint," he tells FierceMobileHealthcare. "That is one of the reasons why many hospitals have invested in telemedicine even while there is not full reimbursement available. The increase in referrals into an institution can be substantial."

Still not convinced? Consider H&HN's latest data: 70 percent of the "Most Wired" hospitals in the U.S.--according to the annual survey conducted by H&HN, the American Hospital Association, and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives--provide telehealth, compared to only 42 percent of other hospitals.

Another exec says telehealth can flat-out increase business. Nancy Vorhees, COO for Inland Northwest Health Services in Spokane, Wash., tells H&HN that telehealth can mean sending fewer patients to other hospitals, if they live too far away to make the drive to your facility.

It also can improve clinical outcomes, she notes, by providing ultra-convenient televisits for checkups, follow-ups and other routine visits. Industry data has long shown that patients often forget, break or simply never schedule these kinds of appointments because they have to take time off work, or travel significant distances for what they consider low-level care.

Probst says eventually hospitals may have to try telemedicine just to keep their providers happy. "Clinicians soon will start demanding seamless face-to-face connectivity with everyone in the care circle, from specialists and nurses to patients and families," he says.

So, what do you think? Is telehealth a marketing boon for hospitals? Are patients in your markets pushing for televisits? Your clinicians? Are your local competitors offering telehealth?

To learn more:
- check out the full H&HN article (starting on p. 37)