Telehealth tactics: A look at Penn Medicine's three-tiered approach

Associate Vice President John Donohue divulges the system’s approach to telemedicine and videoconferencing, including the tech and governance components hospitals need to succeed.
By John P. Donohue
07:30 AM
Penn Medicine Telehealth

While there is nothing really new about video-based collaboration — or even telemedicine for that matter — a technology ecosystem is emerging to make next-generation medical visits and business interactions mainstream. That means it should be a core component of hospital’s IT planning process. 

Video technology and clinical integration capabilities have reached a maturity level that makes enhanced collaboration a reality, and potentially a competitive differentiator.

Recently, we developed a three-tier video strategy for collaboration and telemedicine. Our strategy addresses a wide range of clinical visit types and business scenarios. Yet it is dynamic and agile enough to scale and handle future state requirements.  For example, our new patient bed tower will be opening in 2021 and we are preparing to include types of video technologies that might be built in to the core requirements of this acute care facility.

Additionally, our strategy addresses the legacy video technologies already in place across the enterprise with a transformation plan. Lastly, this scheme fits into our planning tenant of common systems, centrally managed and collaboratively implemented. 

The first component of our plan addresses clinical grade video technology. This offering is designed for more clinically oriented requirements. Examples of this type include video technology within our OR suites for grand rounds and physician education.  Additionally, this is the platform used for connected health (such as remote patient monitoring) and telemedicine solutions that touch patient care. This platform is designed with high resilience for maximum availability and has been integrated with our EHR for billing purposes. The collaboration required to design and build an integrated EHR/telemedicine capability is significant — but it paves the way for some game changing telemedicine offerings to your patient community.

Room-based video conferencing is another offering designed as a standards based collaboration technology to use throughout our health system which has grown exponentially in size and geographical footprint. Picking the right technology partner and a solution that is both easy to use and scales appropriately is instrumental in our success. We are also able to collaborate more easily outside the organization communicating with U.S. and even overseas business relationships. Interoperability is the name of the game when it comes to bridging outside your organization. This interoperability should include other industry leading room service providers and cloud service providers. For our room based video conferencing, we have templates that help guide new implementations and budget estimates for upcoming construction projects. These include one for senior executive/trustee level rooms, one with a higher level of technology for specific requirements and one for basic audio/visual needs. All of our rooms are tied back to a central control center for monitoring, support and troubleshooting.

Lastly, the mobile and desktop video conferencing is the most flexible of our tiers and is used for collaboration among staff level folks across the organization. Here we leverage our network infrastructure across to deliver unified communications capabilities. Cost is low and it’s easy to implement. The technology is already paying dividends for collaboration.

Most recently, we are piloting a concept called “VC in a Box”.  This concept includes the capability to have a mobile video conferencing configuration that can be moved around the organization for special events that don’t occur in a previously designed video conferencing room. The early success in this pilot leads me to believe that we may wind up with several of these setups as a new offering.

When rolling out video technology like this across a broad, diverse and complex organization, communication becomes paramount. How you explain these offerings (via a service catalog) and make it easy for the user community to select the right technology at the right time is key to acceptance and driving the benefits of its use. We created a video technology governance committee that steers the direction and becomes a set of champions. This group ultimately helps us with communications and the development of an effective portal for how to engage the services and maybe most importantly how to get a session scheduled and get the support that is needed. 

Our portal offers white glove support and even addresses things like re-arranging the room for an event and having food and beverages delivered. Lastly, the portal allows for calendar synchronization so that it is tightly integrated with the scheduling of the room itself.

Ultimately, having an effective and easy to use video technology ecosystem can allow a growing organization to drive down travel costs, increase collaboration and ultimately provide better patient care to drive enhanced outcomes.

John Donohue is Associate Vice President of Penn Medicine.

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