Google “telemedicine,” and you’ll pull up any number of telemedicine vendors. The problem is figuring out which telemedicine vendor is right for you. You want to find a vendor with both the technical expertise and the feature set you need. It’s also wise to consider whether a vendor is dedicated to the healthcare field or serves a variety of industries, and whether they are likely to shut down on you, as Google Helpouts did.
If you’re trying to get a COVID-19 telemedicine solution out the door fast, here is a quick vendor questions list that the AAFP put together for family medicine practitioners:
- Can I exit my contract at any time (i.e., not locked into a 2-year contract)?
- Is there a waiting room feature so I can queue my patients up?
- Is the platform device agnostic (i.e., can physicians/providers and patients use device of their choosing for virtual care)?
- Is there an out-of-office message noting we’re not available to take your call right now? (i.e., during off hours or overnight)?
- Does the software has the ability to schedule a visit? Note: This is a more advanced feature; it’s not absolutely required to have now, but it’s very nice to have
The AAFP also has also compiled an excellent page of COVID-19 telemedicine resources and answers to the most commonly asked questions.
If you want to dive a little deeper into your vendors, here are four major criteria to help you evaluate your telemedicine vendor.
1. What are the video conferencing and communications capabilities?
Your video and communications platform is a key piece when building your telemedicine system. Besides making sure that the platform you use is HIPAA-compliant, you also want to make sure it will meet your needs now and in the future. Some important features to consider:
- Is it available on mobile devices? Which ones?
- Are there browser requirements?
- What are the network requirements? Does it allow for communications to patients at home? Will it require extra IT support?
- Does it have secure text-chat with picture sending?
- Does it allow live sharing and annotation of lab tests, X-rays, MRIs?
- Does it provide peripheral device (stethoscope, ultrasound, EKG, etc.) streaming?
- Does it have far-end PTZ camera control for providers to remotely zoom in on a patient?
Don’t just rely on a sales demo. Take time to really try out their video software with your clinicians and get feedback. Find out where they’re getting hung up and decide if it’s a deal breaker. It’s good to note that if you’re serving rural communities and patients with poor internet, video connections can be finicky.
2. What kind of online workflow features are available?
Another important piece of the puzzle is your online workflow. From scheduling an appointment, to communicating with the patient before the video consultation begins, all the way through to payment and record keeping. Find out whether this vendor can truly provide the functionality that fits you and your patients every step of the way. Other features we often get asked about include: patient waiting queues, customizing patient in-take forms, signing consent forms, EMR integration options, and sending reminders and notifications. So make sure you understand your options for managing your workflow.
3. What kind of device integration is possible?
While many telemedicine vendors (e.g. American Well) are able to provide the online workflow and payments piece, most do not provide health device integration. For chronic care, post-acute care, and wellness patients, you want to be able to monitor their vitals or blood sugar, etc. This means your telehealth system should have the ability to pull in health data from wearable and consumer health devices such FitBit, MiBand, Dexcom, and other hot health devices that are changing the face of healthcare.
4. What kind of training and support are provided?
One of the toughest parts of getting your telemedicine practice going is getting your providers on board with the new system. So find out what kind of training or implementation support the vendor provides. Does the vendor host large group training sessions? Do they provide individual training appointments? Do they do on-site training or just online webinars? Can they give you collaterals such as customizable quick guides and training manuals? Do they have digital marketing materials to help you market your new service – information about telemedicine benefits, reimbursement, or digital banners and graphics. These will all make a difference in how quickly you can get your telehealth services up and growing!
Moreover, support issues are bound to come up whether its basic support problems, system downtime, or real bugs. Get a promise from your telemedicine vendor to provide both phone and email support. Also, ask about their current response time. It might not be feasible to get an instant fix, but any response within an hour is pretty good by industry standards.
Remember the goal of creating a telemedicine system is improved healthcare
Of course, you should have lots of other questions for your telemedicine vendor. But these four should get you started so you can stay focused on your end goal – creating a telemedicine system that is easy for both your providers and patients to use and that improves healthcare delivery.
Interested in learning where telehealth is going? Get insights with speakers like Walmart, UnitedHealth, Aetna, DaVita, and others at our annual Telehealth Secrets conference Oct. 2-4 in Silicon Valley.