AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


The Challenge of Connecting Telemedicine to Electronic Health Records

Much of the debate about telemedicine and the effect it is imposing on the established healthcare delivery model has been centered on the doctor/patient relationship and the adherence to maintaining a high standard of care, regardless of the method of interaction. While the importance of the patient and physician in the new electronic relationship is well understood, there is a third component essential to the successful integration of telemedicine. The ability to access patient’s medical information is critical to extending continuity of care for patients as well as improving transparency between telemedicine providers and healthcare organizations. Organizations are already integrating electronic health records (EHRs) systems but telemedicine adds another layer of integration.

To successfully access patient data, telehealth providers will need to achieve interoperability between various information technology systems and software applications and must be able to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged seamlessly across all types of digital communication devises. Tom Bizzaro, vice president of health policy for First Databank says, “We have to universally acknowledge the value of interoperability within healthcare IT systems. Indeed, sharing data across systems can help to improve care quality and efficiency in the country’s health system and lead to success of value-based reimbursement models. However, all players – providers, payers, patients and vendors alike – need to truly embrace the value EHR interoperability, putting it above any proprietary concerns.”

In speaking about the future of the connected healthcare system, Steve Cashman, CEO of HealthSpot, said “The future of the connected healthcare system lies in solutions that deliver care to patients where it’s most convenient for them through unique partnerships that extend the care of traditional health systems and local medical communities through different forms of mobile health and telemedicine. By embracing new technologies, we can treat a greater number of people with more efficient and relevant means of care. With the addition of cloud-based electronic health records and coordination of care between traditional and connected healthcare models, we can build an even better experience for patients and providers. Building connected healthcare systems will also allow us to engage with patients on a deeper level, incentivizing them to seek care and empowering them to participate in preventative measures.”

Congressional House leaders recently unveiled a draft of the 21st Century Cures Act, which aims to “accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery cycle to get promising new treatments and cures to patients more quickly.” The original draft did not include language pertaining to telemedicine, but a new draft includes language about the interoperability of electronic health records and requires electronic health records to be interoperable by Jan. 1, 2018. The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) President and CEO Russell Branzell and Board Chair Charles Christian want better patient identification to be included in the new legislation in order to better secure access to patient information. The duo called it the “the most significant challenge” to safe health information exchange. A subsequent statement by CHIME to FierceHealthIT read, “Increasing access to patient data alone will not translate into better patient care. We would encourage the committee to emphasize both the need to increase access and exchange health information, along with the value of being able to use the data to improve care.” The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) CEO Jonathan Linkous, expressed his hope that Congress will adopt “at least a few measures” to expand access to telemedicine.

The shift to EHRs in large healthcare organizations and in clinical practice certainly proved challenging.  As telemedicine becomes a standard of care, EHR integration becomes a key component to long-term success.

As AcuteCare expands into various healthcare organizations, Dr. James M. Kiely, Partner, AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT) comments on the complexity of integration with EHR systems. “Currently, we are able to enter patient data via a secure but separate, web-based portal or by using some very good software that allows data integration. Both solutions require manual staff intervention which can often be slow and cumbersome; the antithesis of what telemedicine is supposed to represent. As with EHR integration, it might take considerable time and effort to create a platform that simplifies the integration.”



Collaboration Across the Pond

Relations between the US and the UK are particularly amiable, arguably at an all time high, and moving towards modernity, our cultures have engaged in a ‘give and take’ from one another. However, when it comes to discussion of healthcare policy, our politicians and citizens are often quick to dismiss one another’s perspectives.

Despite the huge disparities in approach, each country’s current desires in regards to changing their healthcare situation are fairly equivalent. Both nations are working towards getting better value from healthcare expenditures, encouraging providers to focus on quality with better incentives, and controlling rising health care costs, regardless of the differences in who is paying.

Telemedicine offers both systems huge advantages in the pursuit of these goals, and the two can learn from one another. In the US, telemedicine has helped curb unnecessary and irresponsible healthcare spending, an important consideration for a nation currently obsessed with combating rising costs detrimental to its economy. Abroad, electronic patient care records are managed efficiently, falling in line with the expectations of the unified, government-controlled National Health Service (NHS) responsible for administrating healthcare.

It is important to keep in mind the great differences in context between the implementation of telemedicine in the United Kingdom and here at home. Of course, the NHS provides citizens with what we have dubbed as “Universal” health care, which is free to the patient at the point of service. In contrast to the Brits’ centrally governed and tax-funded system, care in the US is available through a multitude of competitive providers and is paid for by a patchwork of public and private insurers. The fact of the matter is, telemedicine works as a solution to a myriad of challenges, and both countries are discovering new solutions every day.

Healthcare officials in both countries envision telemedicine playing prominent roles in the future of their respective systems. Perhaps in the short term, this vision will be a common ground on which to open a mutually beneficial dialogue to address the unique challenges facing each nation.