I attended a webinar last week where the speaker, Jeff Robbins, Director of Neurodiagnostics and Telehealth at Tift Regional Medical Center, recounted the following (paraphrased) story:
Eight years ago Tift had purchased their first batch of telemedicine equipment. For the first year or so they mostly stared at it, with no idea how to go about using it.
They wondered whether they could be reimbursed for anything they used it for and whether they could figure out how to use it and wondered what it could do. They weren’t using their equipment. They weren’t using telemedicine.
Then Jeff said they decided to “put the patients first.” They purposefully forgot about reimbursement, coverage regulations, computer abilities of the doctors, or whether the possible uses fit into the business plan of the hospital. They focused on finding out, through actually doing it, if telemedicine could help their patients. When that happened…
All those things took care of themselves.
Or, as Jeff put it (again, paraphrased), “Once we put the patients first, everything else fell into place.” And later, “We [figured out] all the other stuff as we went along.” In other words, once Tift decided telemedicine would allow them to give their patients the best care they could provide and stopped worrying about reimbursement and business plans, they then discovered that they were able to learn all the appropriate regulations, what procedures were reimbursable, how to maximize returns on the rest, how to train the operators, etc.
Importantly, this was a decision that has to be made from both ends: Doctors have to embrace it for their patients, as they are the ones using it, but those with “chief” in their titles (Jeff’s wording) have to be visionaries as well, pushing their staff to give it a shot and sticking with it if adoption starts out slowly.
Ultimately, hospitals and medical centers that are dragging their feet or still on the fence about telemedicine have to ask, “Will this help our patients?”, not just, “Can we understand current reimbursement legislation?”
You should still ask all the other questions, but after you’ve helped your patients. Because then you’ll discover the answers have been there all along.
The webinar, by the way, was presented by the Telehealth Resource Centers, a wonderful organization with many great resources and regional offices to help care organizations that want to deploy telemedicine / telehealth for their patients and doctors. I advise checking their site out. As with the ATA, it’s well worth the visit.
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