JACKSON, Miss. – When the University of Mississippi Medical Center set out to build a telehealth program, they knew they needed to keep their focus on what was motivating their work.
“You have to be sure you are addressing a clinical need with a clinical solution, then find the technology to address it,” said Michael Adcock, executive director of the UMMC Center for Telehealth, in a presentation at the recent mHealth + Telehealth World conference in Boston.
UMMC’s need was to give patients high quality care close to home, while finding a way to reduce costs. So they invested in global medical carts, in-home monitoring technology, wearable devices, store-and-forward systems and a patient portal, effectively reducing the costs of readmissions and emergency room visits in the process.
“Our telehealth program has a lot of potential and can save a lot of money,” said Adcock.
The health system began its telehealth program back in the 1990s with diagnostic test interpretation, but they didn’t hire any full-time staff specific to telehealth until 2011. The Center for Telehealth was launched two years later, and since then it has served more than 500,000 patients at more than 200 locations. New locations are being added weekly.
Part of the program’s success is UMMC’s emphasis on keeping the bar high, said Adcock.
“If the technology we consider for this program cannot replicate an in-person exam then it is not appropriate for telehealth,” he said. “We know we have to maintain the same standard of care as in-person treatment or exceed it.”
As the program continues to grow, UMMC keeps an eye out for new technology that can improve their patients’ quality of life. Adcock said the health system is exploring new technologies like wearable devices, “disappearables,” embedded sensors, phone diagnostics, genetic mapping and social media analytics. But he cautioned other health care providers about getting too caught up in the bells and whistles of new technology.
“You need to think about your patients when sending out technology,” Adcock said. “Patients need a form factor they can actually use.”