Hospitals Centralizing Telemedicine, But EMR Integration Is Still Tough

Over the past few years, large healthcare providers have begun to offer their patients telemedicine options. In the past, they offered these services on an ad-hoc basis, but that seems to be changing. A new survey suggests that hospitals and health systems have begun to manage this telemedicine service lines to a central office rather than letting individual departments decide how to deliver virtual care.

The survey, which was conducted by REACH Health, polled more than 400 healthcare executives, physicians and nurses as well as other healthcare professionals. REACH, which offers enterprise telemedicine systems, has been conducting research on the telemedicine business for several years.

Forty-eight percent of respondents to the REACH Health 2018 Telemedicine Industry Benchmark Survey reported that they coordinated telemedicine services on enterprise-level, up from 39% last year. Meanwhile, 26% said that individual departments handled their own telemedicine services, down from 36% in 2017.

The providers that are taking an enterprise approach seem to have a good reason for doing so. When it analyzed the survey data, REACH concluded that organizations offering telemedicine at the enterprise level were 30% more likely to be highly successful. (Not that the company would draw any other conclusion, of course, but it does seem logical that coordinating telehealth would be more efficient.)

The survey also found that telemedicine programs provided by both behavioral health organizations and clinics have expanded rapidly over the last few years. Back in 2015, REACH found that many behavioral health providers and clinics were at the planning stages or new to delivering telemedicine, but according to the 2018 results, many now have active telemedicine programs in place, with clinic services expanding 37% and behavioral health 40%.

While healthcare organizations may be managing telemedicine centrally, their EMRs don’t seem adequate to the job. First, most survey respondents noted that the telemedicine platform wasn’t integrated with the EMR. Meanwhile, nearly half said they were documenting patient visits in the EMR after remote consultations had ended. In addition, more than one-third of respondents said that EMR doesn’t allow them to analyze telemedicine-specific metrics adequately.

Whether REACH’s solution solves the problem or not, I’m pretty sure they’re right that integrating telemedicine services data with an EMR remains difficult.

In fact, it seems obvious to me that while hospitals are still tweaking their programs for maximum impact, and getting paid for such services is still an issue, telemedicine won’t become a completely mature service line until collecting related data and integrating it with off-line patient care information is easy and efficient.


About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.