The Growth Channel

Thinking about investing in telehealth? Here’s where to start.

You don’t have to go far to find health system executives considering what their organization’s virtual health strategy ought to look like—a trend we expect to continue to grow. Today, providers are turning to telehealth to help solve unmet needs for access. But many early adopters have found their investments yielding less than expected results in terms of participation and financial return.

We sat down with one of Advisory Board’s virtual health experts, Laurie Sprung, to discuss the processes involved in incorporating virtual health into existing strategies and the first step that is essential to successful adoption.

Q: It seems like telehealth has been a frequent topic in the news lately. Why is that?

More than ever, hospitals are under pressure to innovate and stay ahead of their peers as they compete for consumer attention and loyalty. An unmet consumer demand for convenience and the development of more mature, stable technologies have brought telehealth to the forefront of today’s competitive health care market. Additionally, the strict regulations and reimbursement barriers on virtual health are improving. Telehealth also promises significant cost savings and care management benefits to organizations on the path to value-based care. For many, the question has shifted from if they should invest in telehealth capabilities to when.

Q: Clearly there are a lot of things to consider before investment. What do you recommend as the first step?

Many organizations are asking, “Which telehealth technology should we invest in?” and don’t realize that they should first be asking, “Why is it that we want to use telehealth?” It’s important to remember that telehealth enables strategy and is not a standalone solution. Before anything, organizations need to figure out how this investment fits into their broader consumer, access and care management strategies. If leadership isn’t clear with stakeholders about why virtual health is important and why they should be using it, return on investment could be at risk and the technology left unused. So from my point of view, setting clear goals and expectations are by far the most important pieces of the puzzle.

Q: Once the right goals are in place, how do organizations move from investment to implementation?

Moving from strategic intent to implementation can be challenging. In general, turning the vision for telehealth into a real-world system requires in depth analyses of four business areas: strategy, operations, finance, and clinical. Each area presents a different set of questions to be considered. For example, the strategic and operational questions should be framed around how virtual health enables strategic priorities and if you have the tools in place to deliver it to your market. While the financial and clinical questions should touch on how you plan to capture ROI and if the proper guidelines are in place to ensure no disruption in physician-patient relationships.

Q: That sounds like a ton of work. How do organizations know if it’s worth it?

Any organization that believes access matters and/or that patients are making decisions based on convenience ought to be thinking about how to integrate virtual capabilities into their care continuum, keeping in mind regulation and legislation in their state. If your leadership team is not actively thinking about your virtual health strategy but recognizes the need to improve access and expand geographic reach to stay competitive, you’re probably missing out.

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Why telehealth technology isn't enough

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