Two heads are better than one — and sometimes three, or more, are even better yet. The good news for healthcare organizations is that with telehealth solutions, it is much easier to bring professionals and patients together to collaborate, as they no longer need to be in the same physical location.
For example, when treating stroke patients, primary care physicians working in rural emergency departments can easily consult with specialists hundreds of miles away. “With strokes, it’s important to start treatment immediately,” said John Sharp, director of thought advisory for the Personal Connected Health Alliance. “So, it’s very useful to use telehealth solutions to consult with neurologists. Having them available to consult in real time can make a big difference in the patient’s outcomes.”
Telehealth is also a viable option when it is necessary to bring a multitude of clinicians into the mix to address complicated clinical care issues. For example, when conducting “tumor board” meetings, it’s necessary to bring several clinicians together to discuss the diagnosis and treatment plan for cancer patients. “With virtual connectivity, it’s possible to have the oncologist, radiologist, radiation therapist, pathologist, surgeon, and even the patient calling in from different places, or to assemble half of the participants in a room and to have the other half participate virtually,” Sharp said. “As such, it is much easier for clinicians to fit these meetings into their workflow as they don’t have to make time for an in-person meeting in a mutually convenient location.”
This increased reliance on virtual collaboration, however, has significant hardware implications. “While telehealth programs facilitate realtime collaboration, healthcare organizations need to be smart about how they use hardware to support these programs,” Sharp said.
Setting up conference areas or clinical hubs that can support virtual care is a must. “Having a standard conference phone in a room is not enough,” said Sharp. “These areas should be outfitted with a conference phone that’s connected to a large screen with a secure video link that enables medical consultation. Multiple screens are preferable because then it is possible to interact face-to-face on one screen and then simultaneously display clinical information, pathology slides, and MRI and CT scan images.”
While some clinicians might participate in consultations using hardware installed in these clinical hubs, others are likely to bring laptops into the rooms or participate while using laptops in other areas of the hospital or from home. These laptops should have integrated, built-in features, eliminating the need for external equipment such as RFID readers or webcams, which can be cumbersome.
“A hospital might have a dedicated hub off an emergency room where clinicians can gather to work. Emergency rooms, though, are not known for being spacious,” Sharp noted.
In addition, when working virtually, clinicians need high-end laptops that are outfitted “with large, high resolution screens and have a good microphone or the ability to use a Bluetooth® wireless headset. And, it’s really important to have a high-end camera that can produce a clear image of the patient who is being diagnosed or treated,” Sharp said.*
Working with a vendor that can ensure that its devices will work with various software systems and ancillary equipment such as mobile carts, as well as diagnostic tools such as pulse oximeters and analyzers, can help to reduce costs and streamline maintenance. “Having a single solution stack might take away some choice, but it is much easier to support,” Sharp concluded. “If you are working with multiple vendors, it simply becomes more difficult and more costly to maintain and secure the technology that is needed.”
*The Bluetooth® word mark and logos are registered trademarks owned by Bluetooth SIG, Inc.
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