Beyond Tech: Three Key Areas Health Care Technologists Must Understand

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Ayo Jimoh.

Telemedicine is often thought of as simply a digital channel between doctor and patient. However, building a safe and accurate telemedicine software platform and service can be far more complex. In addition to the technology and service itself, there are several other key components to consider to ensure the solution meets the proper standard of care.

Here are three major areas technologists must thoroughly understand when developing and launching a telemedicine solution.

1. Regulatory And Compliance

Since telemedicine is a relatively new concept, some of today’s laws do not directly address the current state of technology. Many laws were written at a time when telemedicine technology was limited to simple phone or video exchanges between patients and doctors. Fully understanding the regulatory landscape of the field of medicine being entered is vital, especially in the early stages of platform development.

There are a variety of laws to understand and comply with, including HIPAA and the HITECH Act. HIPAA focuses on standards for electronic health care transactions, the protection of patient identifiable health information and protecting the confidentiality, integrity, availability and security of protected health information. Putting security controls in place throughout a telemedicine platform is vital to protect patient health information and ensure compliance with the law. Finally, it’s critical that these protections are embedded and enforced throughout your employee policies and procedures. Securing your human activities is as important as securing your systems.

The HITECH Act complements and strengthens HIPAA by promoting the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology. With software-based telemedicine and electronic records, we can strengthen patient privacy by using cloud storage, encryption and secure credentials. Implementing multiple layers of protection ensures patient health information is secure, stored and cared for properly. The HITECH Act also protects and empowers patients by requiring data breaches be reported, ensuring compliance for business associates and providing patients with access to their electronic health records.

Each state in the U.S. and country abroad has its own medical boards, medical associations and telemedicine laws that will affect the accessibility of a solution for patients. Educating, collaborating with, and learning from governing bodies and associations is an important step in introducing a new telemedicine solution, and those relationships will need to be continually nurtured.

2. Infrastructure

Telemedicine solutions need to meet or exceed the standard of care experienced during a traditional patient visit with an in-person provider. This standard can be understood through a robust research and development process that includes patients and doctors to help evaluate the telemedicine experience and outcomes. Working with experienced doctors to fully understand the ins and outs of a traditional in-person visit will help create a baseline for how a telemedicine solution can be layered into the process.

I recommend user experience research that involves sending patients through both the telemedicine experience as well as in-person doctor visits to understand what the patients and providers are thinking, feeling and doing throughout the journey. Then, surveying patients objectively and subjectively will provide meaningful insights that will help optimize the overall experience.

A telemedicine solution must also include the proper checks and balances. A traditional doctor’s office has receptionists, nurses, resident doctors and attending physicians who all work together to provide redundancy and ensure a high-quality outcome for the patient. In a telemedicine platform, the same level of care can be implemented via the software development and quality assurance process, automated quality verification procedures and manual review where appropriate. Being able to understand when the technology is insufficient is invaluable to the process of ensuring patient safety and security. And finally, involving a doctor is critical to provide the final clinical guidance.

3. Delivering The Service

The most important part of delivering a telemedicine service is educating patients on what the service is versus what it is not. Telemedicine cannot do everything. Many aspects of the practice of medicine still require a human touch and will continue to for the foreseeable future. It’s important to be clear with patients about the outcomes they can expect from telemedicine and that it may only be a subcomponent of what is achievable from an in-person doctor visit.

For example, the company I work for, Visibly, created an online vision test allowing patients to renew their vision prescriptions from home. However, we are not a comprehensive eye exam, and patients are still required to see an eye doctor in person for this level of care every two years. We include messaging regarding this distinction throughout the patient journey, and patients benefit from the transparency.

To expand the reach of the service, telemedicine technologists should explore opportunities to deepen their integration with doctors and providers. Software-based telemedicine platforms can scale faster and wider than traditional hardware, allowing providers to increase their engagement with existing patients while expanding their reach to new patients. Software-based tools can be launched on devices that have become ubiquitous for personal and business usage and don’t require complicated setup or installations. Maintenance costs stay low, and updates to software applications can be delivered digitally and at the desired frequency.

Telemedicine is most effective when doctors and technology come together to ensure great outcomes for patients. Success can be measured by reaching the intersection of secure, accurate and cost-effective outcomes with patient satisfaction. Once that combination is met, the potential of the solution is endless.

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