Telemedicine is unique among the health care industry because there is so much room for interpretation. This rapidly growing segment of the field encompasses everything from doctors communicating via video conferencing in different parts of the world to people at home using smartphones to track their health.
In the specific area of clinical telemedicine, the lines are more demarcated. The services and technologies that drive the clinical practice of telemedicine are concerned solely with helping doctors, nurses and healthcare practitioners work with each other - and with patients - more effectively to increase the range of accessible care. There are many tools that these professionals have at their disposal, but at the heart of the operation is the telemedicine cart.
Despite its importance, the telemedicine cart is a source of confusion for some clinicians and administrators unfamiliar with the technology. The good news is that understanding the telemedicine cart doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, if you can shop for a new car, you can pick out a cart that's just right for your facility. Here are some things to keep in mind.
"A telemedicine cart is so much more than video conferencing equipment on wheels."
Understand the basics
The first thing you need to know when considering which telemedicine cart is right for you is how the cart will fit in with the rest of your equipment. Just like an automobile is more than the sum of the parts that make it up, so too is a telemedicine cart more than just video conferencing equipment on wheels. Rather, just like your car's foundation is the chassis on which the rest of it is built, your telemedicine cart is similarly a useful chassis that both supports the other devices and integrates them into its operation.
Unlike any old mobile cart, one that is designed for clinical telemedicine encounters integrates the appropriate tools and technology necessary for a patient exam, as part of the initial setup. Consider the difference between a car and a go-kart: They may look similar, but the former is custom-built to handle the needs of everyday frequent driving. Likewise, the built-in functionality of a cart designed for telemedicine makes it a whole separate beast from a standard healthcare cart or a "home-grown" cart for telemedicine.
Look for a cart that is road tested, telemedicine approved and comes with reliable support
Shop to your needs
You may be tempted to walk into a car dealership and drive away with the most expensive, most impressive-looking car on the lot. After all, if you truly do get what you pay for, why not go all out from the start?
While it's true that different models of telemedicine carts have different features and capabilities, if your purchasing decision is swayed by features alone, instead of matching the functionality of the cart with the goals of the telemedicine program, you're likely to end up spending unnecessary money. Think about what medical specialties you plan to use telemedicine for. This important consideration will be the foundation of your decision-making while you're choosing a cart.
For example, if your goal is to serve as a clinical outreach for patients in rural areas that don't have access to specialists for follow-up visits and consults, a telemedicine cart like the IMEDS II system could be a good fit. It is important to look for a cart that offers a host of features and can support multiple medical devices, as well as integrates with your preferred video conferencing platform. This functionality of the cart will allow you to easily add equipment as needed for specialties serviced, such as a digital stethoscope, ECG, vital signs monitor, spirometer, ENT scope, examination camera, ultrasound probes and any number of other specialty-specific devices.
Look under the hood
A sexy and sleek exterior is immediately attractive, but everyone knows it's what's on the inside that counts. When it comes to clinical telemedicine, the ability to integrate a single platform for communicating with the remote provider and sharing all the medical data collected, plays just as central a role as the engine does in your car.
If you aren't going to be doing a lot of competitive or high-performance driving, you don't necessarily need a powerful V-8 engine, but neither do you want something that's unable to handle the rigors of your daily life. Even worse, you wouldn't want to buy a car only to find that when you pop the hood, it doesn't even have an engine.
In that same vein, you want to make sure that your telemedicine cart's central software backbone is just as robust as the bells and whistles that adorn it. For example, under the hood of the IMEDS II telemedicine cart is AGNES Interactive, a Web-based encounter management portal that gives the clinicians the power to communicate information from the patient exam with the remote provider in real-time.
"After-market maintenance is one of the many benefits of partnering with a clinical telemedicine provider."
Thinking about the future
Another important factor to take into consideration is your clinic's plans for future expansion and integration of telemedicine technologies. Many healthcare organizations, especially those who have succeeded with their telemedicine programs, opt to embrace telemedicine on a trial basis at first. A common practice is to bring telemedicine equipment on for one specialty, and train a select group of clinicians who can then become the practice's "super users."
More than just the future of your practice, you need to think about the future of your equipment as well. Just like warranties are often a major selling point for cars, your options for after-market maintenance and support on your cart, should factor in as well. This is where you can benefit most from partnering with a clinical telemedicine provider. Purchasing a cart is one thing, but what is your strategy for if and when you have a technical issue with your equipment or you need help configuring medical devices? You need to know there is someone you can count on to help you figure all that out. As with car ownership, controlling the "hidden costs" is a crucial part of getting the most from your investment.
Carts guiding the way to new developments
Telemedicine carts have already made a huge splash in the healthcare community, and this trend will likely continue. According to Business Wire, the modularity and flexibility of telemedicine carts, specifically those with integrated software platforms, are driving further technological development. The source predicted that this trend will lead to a push to further integrate the various telemedicine technologies on both the software and hardware side.
Contact AMD today to let us help you select the right clinical telemedicine cart for your application.