October 24, 2023
. . .
Virtual care can be an efficient, cost-effective and safe way to improve the hospital experience for patients, while also alleviating some workload challenges clinicians face.
If your team is incorporating virtual care into your long-term strategies, here are 6 questions to ask telehealth vendors to make sure you choose the right partner for your initiatives.
- Does the virtual care solution support multiple use cases?
No matter your hospital’s location, size, specialty or patient demographic, inpatient telehealth can be beneficial to both your immediate needs and your long-term strategies.
Consider if the virtual care solutions you’re looking at can support the following use cases:
- Patient consults – Make the most of your specialists’ time with remote consultations that can include family members as well
- Patient observation – Help with staff shortages by enabling nurses to monitor multiple patients at once, and by leveraging remote staff for tele-sitting high-risk patients (e.g., falls, behavioral health, unstable vitals)
- Virtual nursing – Help bedside staff save time by having remote nurses take care of admissions, initial patient interviews, education teach-backs, and discharge prep
- Virtual rounding – Give providers a more efficient way to check in on patients and have more time to spend on direct care
- Interpreter services – Improve health equity by incorporating live language translators or ASL interpreters into patient care consultations automatically and seamlessly
- Patient & family communications – Provide easy and reliable options for patients in isolation or separated by distance to connect with their loved ones
- Is the solution TV-based or tablet-based?
There are many ways virtual care technology can be deployed. But for a long-term, scalable strategy, we recommend looking for a solution that uses televisions rather than tablets on a swing arm or mobile cart. Here’s why:
- Most hospitals already have TVs installed in patient rooms, allowing you to use existing hardware you’ve already invested in
- A TV offers a big screen for a better viewing experience, especially if the patient also has family members in the room during a virtual consultation
- Swing arms and mobile carts take up valuable real estate in a patient room, whereas TVs are typically mounted on walls with a small hardware footprint
- Standalone tablets and mobile carts typically require nurses to track, charge, clean, schedule, locate, and configure separately for each patient
- A tablet-based solution relies on the patient or a nurse to reposition cameras for the provider; a TV-based solution typically has a dedicated camera that allows providers to control what they see or zoom in on in the room
- A TV-based solution can be integrated to automatically connect the right provider to the right patient in the right room
- What hardware is needed for the best audio-visual experience?
The cameras and microphones you need will depend on your use cases and physical environments, but two major audio-visual insights we’ve gathered working with hospitals on their telehealth implementations are:
- A pillow speaker’s audio is not sufficient for telehealth experiences. It’s typically not loud enough to have clear two-way conversations. A provider also needs a microphone that can filter out background noise and pick up what a patient is saying even if they’re across the room.
- Providers prefer a pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) camera they can control remotely to take a closer look at patients or view monitor readings. The camera used for telehealth must also provide smooth streaming and clear resolutions, even in low-light situations.
- Does it require staff intervention to use during telehealth sessions?
If your hospital is facing workforce shortages, consider prioritizing a virtual care solution that doesn’t need in-room staff support to use.
For example, SONIFI Health has developed an API that integrates telehealth into a hospital’s interactive patient engagement system. With this integration, easy-to-use virtual care features on the in-room interactive TV that don’t require nurses to activate include:
- Verified & secure patient-aware connections
- Automatic TV power on if it’s not currently in use
- Bookmarking activities and programming, or pausing video progress
- “Soft knock” notification, allowing patients to answer the telehealth call or to decline if they are not ready to accept at that time
- Automatic answering if there is an immediate need (safety or trauma) or if the patient is unable to use the pillow speaker or voice controls
- Automatic connection to translation services if needed
- Invitation designated family members to join remotely
- Returning the user to their previous activity on the TV after the call
- How easy is it for providers to use?
To make your inpatient telehealth system as valuable and helpful as possible for physicians, ask vendors if they integrate with your EHR system.
Ideally, your providers wouldn’t have to go to a separate website or app, and could instead have a single sign on to start video visits within each patient’s EHR profile.
Keeping telehealth within existing clinical workflows, with a familiar provider-driven user interface, is likely to increase your telehealth program’s adoption, help alleviate some feelings of burnout, and improve the overall experience for both providers and the patients they’re consulting with.
Long-term, an integrated system also makes scaling and standardizing across your enterprise much easier.
- How can remote family members participate?
Ask your virtual care vendor how the system works for remote family members.
Some may require a separate app download to participate in telehealth or other in-room calls. We’ve found that this approach is frustrating and difficult for families to use, and we don’t recommend it.
Instead, systems that can automatically text or email a simple link to join a call are much more user-friendly for family members who need to stay in the loop with their loved one’s care. It’s also helpful if families can participate via mobile or desktop, and without needing the patient or nurse to call them in to a consultation.
Simplify the process with SONIFI Health
We’d love to hear more about your hospital’s priority use cases, and take a deeper dive on how SONIFI Health can help address your telehealth needs.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2022. It has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.