Contributors: Hillary Ross and Nick Giannas
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While COVID-19 takes its toll on so many areas of our lives, within the world of health information technology it has rocketed healthcare providers into the future. Around telehealth – which includes video conferencing as well as remote patient monitoring and mobile health applications – organizations have resourced and ramped up initiatives that otherwise were moving along gradually. It is safe to say the era of telehealth is here. However, its continued rapid expansion and success depend on:
- Continued support from policymakers and insurers to expand coverage of telehealth services and extend regulatory flexibilities even once the pandemic has subsided. In a positive sign, the Trump administration signed an executive order in August to promote telehealth even once the pandemic passes.
- Advances in the telemedicine technology infrastructure
- Ensuring programs are effective and equitable for all
- Determining who best to lead telehealth initiatives within healthcare providers
Which Executive Leads?
This expedited approach has meant there is no consensus on who should lead telehealth initiatives at provider organizations. A key question — clinician or non-clinician? It can be either, but in situations in which physician buy-in and change is needed, a physician is desirable.
Depending on the organization, telehealth services are being overseen by:
CIO: This often makes the most practical sense, as the CIO in many organizations oversees traditional IT functions (information systems, technology infrastructure, data warehouse, etc.) as well as digital strategy. At rural facilities – where the need is greatest – expect the CIO to have broad responsibilities and therefore to drive telehealth adoption. In larger organizations, there may be a dedicated "Director of Telehealth" or similar title beneath the CIO who can focus on it exclusively.
Chief Digital Officer: Most larger healthcare organizations are realizing they need a CDO to create and oversee digital strategy on a par with the CIO role. Digitalization encompasses telehealth and requires full-time attention, and the CDO is well-positioned to take on this responsibility and significantly improve the consumer experience.
CMIO: As a clinician and technologist, the Chief Medical Informatics Officer has a strong background to lead telehealth efforts. The question is, does this role have the support and executive leadership of a CMO or CIO?
COO, CMO (or other business or clinical operations leader): Many organizations are folding telehealth under an operational position. This may be practical but runs the risk of telehealth not having a clear champion.
VP, Telehealth or Chief Telehealth Officer: We're just beginning to see this dedicated role created, though with little consistency as to how it is defined. Should it be a physician or not? The jury is still out.
We are also seeing other titles – from VP of Virtual Medicine to Chief Medical Technology Officer to Chief Clinical Transformation Officer – crop up to oversee telehealth expansion. And in some organizations a dyad model with, say, a non-clinician director of telehealth partnering with a medical director of telehealth is being tested.
Whoever oversees the telehealth function, success requires information technology leadership to align with business and clinical operations teams. While one person may drive telehealth adoption, it will take a team approach to make it work in a seamless and secure manner to achieve success.
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