The COVID-19 pandemic prompted health care providers and systems to rapidly adopt and expand telemedicine services. Telemedicine provides a safer alternative to in-person visits during the pandemic, but simultaneously introduces multiple decision points for implementation.
While many providers already have telemedicine in place, emerging evidence, policies, and guidance on implementation and maintenance indicate that answers to the question, “how do we implement telehealth equitably, safely, and sustainably?” are very much still evolving. Here, we summarize one of the many of the basic components of telemedicine implementation for health care system leaders. This is particularly important in safety-net settings that already face challenges related to limited resources and fragmented health information technology.
Technical Needs. Provision of high-volume telemedicine requires appropriate infrastructure including high-speed internet connectivity and camera and microphone enabled devices. Multiple resources emphasize the importance of updating electronic medical record software in advance of telemedicine implementation.
- California Telehealth Resource Center: Telehealth Program Developer Kit — This PDF includes information about how to implement a telehealth program. Included on page 32 is a useful “Technical Needs Assessment” checklist.
- Health Information Evaluation and Quality (HITEQ) Center: Getting a New Workflow and Process Started during COVID-19 Pandemic — This is a link to download a PDF with information about getting a new telehealth workflow and process started during the COVID-19 pandemic. Included is a section called “Get Your Technology Together” with a step-by-step guide to internet speed and equipment needs.
Vendor Selection. Many providers are looking to hire a telemedicine technology vendor to deliver virtual care for their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Key topics to consider when assessing potential telemedicine vendors include electronic medical record integration, HIPAA compliance, and good user experience for both patients and providers. The resources below offer guidance for the vendor selection process.
- American Telemedicine Association & Consumer Technology Association: Digital Health Directory — This online directory provides a searchable database of digital health technologies to connect physicians and patients with health care solutions amid the pandemic.
- National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health: Telehealth Technologies and Preparing to Select a Vendor — This PDF provides tips for selecting a telehealth vendor and includes a table of available vendors based on common types of telehealth technology.
American Medical Association: Vendor Information Intake Form — This PDF can be used to compile information about a potential vendor using criteria about business, information technology, security, usability, customer service and clinical validation as a guide for technology vendor evaluation.