No longer languishing on the fringes of the industry, telemedicine is well on its way to becoming a fundamental component of mainstream healthcare delivery. According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), approximately 200 telemedicine networks have been established nationwide, and more than 50 percent of U.S. hospitals use at least one telemedicine service.
Subsidies from the public and private sector are beginning to make it financially feasible for rural hospitals and practices to deploy telemedicine technology. The legal and administrative barriers to adoption are also slowly falling. Seven states and the District of Columbia have introduced bills that address telemedicine coverage and reimbursement. These recent developments are encouraging and strongly suggest that telemedicine is here to stay.
There are three main barriers to widespread adoption of telemedicine solutions: broadband availability, legal and reimbursement issues, and end-user comfort with new technology.
- Lack of broadband access: Remote healthcare delivery requires high-speed Internet connectivity to support wireless technology. Many rural hospitals – which stand to benefit the most from telemedicine – do not have access to a robust broadband network or to an adequate wireless network infrastructure to which providers and patients can connect.
- Legal/administrative issues: Uncertainty regarding provider reimbursement, malpractice liability and multistate licensure are all factors healthcare executives must consider before adopting telemedicine solutions.
- Provider/patient comfort levels: If end users are not comfortable with the technology, it is difficult to use or it does not fit into their workflow, a slow and low rate of adoption can be expected.
The issues of broadband access and financial risk pose stumbling blocks to telemedicine adoption, but they are recognized challenges already being addressed in some ways by the healthcare industry as a whole. It is the third challenge – usability – that must take center stage for healthcare organizations. If usability is not addressed prior to the development and deployment of a technology, it stands little chance of reaching robust adoption levels. After all, without adoption, there is little need to worry about the financial and broadband problems.
The optimal telemedicine solution integrates hardware and software technology seamlessly so that the remote encounter feels normal and lifelike to providers and patients. A necessary first step for healthcare organizations is to design solutions that will be comfortable for patients and providers to utilize. To do this, healthcare organizations must leverage user experience (UX) design when developing a solution to support telemedicine.
The goal of UX design is to create intuitive, functional and visually appealing applications that meet the specific needs of end users. UX design is executed following a thorough research process that identifies the specific needs, wants and key tasks of providers and patients.
A well-executed telemedicine solution also integrates both UX design and visual design. These elements are two separate, but equally important, components of application development. Visual design is concerned with the look and feel of an application, whereas UX design focuses on its function and the experience of real people who will actually interact with the technology.
Patients, especially, expect telemedicine solutions to mimic the functionality of popular applications they already know and use. Applying the science of UX design to telemedicine technology helps healthcare organizations deliver solutions that providers and patients view as non-intrusive. When in-depth user-experience research, UX design and visual design are incorporated as part of a telemedicine solution’s methodology, the result is the development of adaptive applications that increase the likelihood of enthusiastic telemedicine adoption.
Fulfilling the promise of telemedicine starts with finding the right technology, and partnering with software developers who genuinely understand UX design. In order to support telemedicine, it is essential to incorporate clinical and user insight to build technologies that can truly transform healthcare. HMT
Scott Frederick, RN BSN MSHI, is director of clinical insight, PointClear Solutions.
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