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    How to select the right telemedicine vendor

     

    Ask the Right Questions 

    Asif Shah Mohammed, MBA, associate principal at ECG Management Consultants, a healthcare management consulting firm, first worked with Greensboro, N.C.-based Cone Health, a six-hospital healthcare system, two years ago. Cone Health contacted ECG after seeing a competitor’s highway billboards offering $50 telemedicine visits. Cone Health wanted to do something similar.

    According to John Jenkins, MD, Cone Health’s senior vice president and chief clinical office for connected care, Cone had three objectives for implementing telemedicine: positioning the company as innovative and transformative, remaining competitive in a market where other companies advertised frequently about their own telemedicine capabilities, and creating a multi-year strategy for entering the digital health world.

    “Spend as much time as possible defining the problem before you look for solutions—that is absolutely critical,” Jenkins advises. “People tend to jump into virtual health, as a way to check the box, rather than thinking about why they need it.” 

    Shah Mohammed says practices need to think about telemedicine as a concept. Know the answers to questions such as “Why do this?”, “How to do it?”, and “How will it affect your brand?” Don’t consider vendors solely by what technology they offer, but instead know what problems the practice is trying to solve with telemedicine integration, such as patient convenience, or staying competitive in the market.

     

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    Once a practice understands why it wants to implement telemedicine, Shah Mohammed notes that finding a third-party planner can help a practice select potential vendors, though it’s certainly possible for a practice to make the decision on its own. The potential to get bogged down by the number of vendors and what they offer, however, can be minimized by using an outside consultant.

     

    Pros and cons of branding

    Shah also cites branding as a consideration   when implementing telemedicine. “It’s common to have something indicating that the system is ‘powered by XYZ vendor,’” says Shah Mohammed. Is it important for the practice to offer its own telemedicine technology directly on its own website, for example, or would the practice prefer to send its patients to a third-party website or vendor app? And if the vendor’s website or app is what the practice will use, would the patient be able to tell the difference, or will it appear as if the software  comes from the practice itself?   

    Using its own branded telemedicine site has its advantages, notes Shah Mohammed. ”From a patient perspective, they will continue to stay within the practice’s ecosystem,” which helps keep the patient connected to the practice, indicates that the practice is innovative, and maintains the patient’s familiarity with the practice they already know, he says. It also keeps patients from potentially leaving the practice’s website and not returning. 

    The disadvantages of a branded site are that if the patient has a bad experience with the platform, even if it is a vendor issue, the patient will associate that experience with the practice itself, Shah Mohammed says. Other critical questions include:

    If the practice is relying on smartphone apps to connect with patients, will the vendor be able to support patients who use both iPhones and Android devices? 

    Can the vendor work with the practice to individualize what it offers for each practice, or is it a more universal system? 

    How does the vendor provide training  so that the practice physicians understand how the telemedicine system operates? How quickly will they offer patients access to the provider? 

    Next: Get the patient perspective

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