The Longevity

A Candid Conversation: Where does the Telehealth Data Go?

An earlier story today covers telehealth platform Avizia’s acquisition of Carena, a 17-year-old company that has been building the technology behind virtual doctor’s visits. Telehealth as a sector is rapidly gaining ground, both in terms of consumer adoption and provider investment.

So it seems an appropriate time to delve into the details on what Wendy Cofran, CIO of the Natick VNA in Massachusetts at the mHealth + Telehealth World Congress conference, called the “overriding challenge facing telehealth”: interoperability, which is to say, where does the data go and can it be moved around?  

One of the telehealth challenges facing physicians who do virtual visits with patients between healthcare facilities is how they document patient encounters and knowing where that documentation lives.

Joel Reich, interim chief medical officer at Commonwealth Care Alliance in Boston concurred [with Cofran]: “It’s just one more example of different parts of the health system working in different directions….”

Reich used the example of a $49 consult with a doctor somewhere through a telehealth provider.

“Where is that data going?” he said. “In most cases it’s not certain it’s going into your patient record. So are we really helping the health system along? Comprehensive care along?”

Cofran and Reich agreed: telehealth has tremendous potential to deliver healthcare more cost effectively when and where the patient needs it. But for now, all this innovation is still happening in silos. Iris Berman, vice president of telehealth services at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y., echoed their concerns during a video interview at the same conference.

She explained that at her facility there was a home care program that needed to get information from diabetic patients’ glucose monitors. However, the glucose monitors the patients were using didn’t work with the software that the information needed to get sent to.

In the video, David Pauer, director of wellness at the Cleveland Clinic Employee Health Plan in Ohio, said his healthcare organization has had a similar experience because they have had to use multiple different platforms for their multiple needs.

What is to be done? Cofran focuses mainly on applying pressure on telehealth vendors to make interoperability a priority, despite the significant programming expense it represents.

“We have to really start to push back on our vendors to say we need to be able to move that data,” Cofran said. “It’s just as important of a feature as it is for [a vendor’s technology] to be able to tell me how much weight [a patient is] gaining.”

Cofran added that interoperability needs to be “just as important as any other device in [a healthcare organization’s] toolkit.”…[As] vendors also need to pay attention to regulations [and] maintain cybersecurity, she [added], [t]here is little motivation or incentive for vendors to work on these telehealth challenges.

Reich agreed but added that providers, too, are often part of the problem.

“People blame the EHR vendors for not being interoperable but … as much of the fault is on all of us in provider groups, hospital systems who don’t want anybody else poking around in their files,” he said.

Cofran said that “the technology is already out there. Other industries are doing it. … I don’t think healthcare is paying attention.”

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