Questions to Ask the Telemedicine Software Company Before You Buy
Any major purchase requires a good deal of research before signing on the dotted line. Of course, when you're looking at technology, it can be confusing even knowing where to begin that research. You don’t have time to become an expert in everything; that's why you rely on vendors to answer your questions. The problem then becomes: What questions should I ask?
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The following 10 questions should help you get started. When speaking to vendors, record their answers to these questions. You'll never remember everyone's responses, so this will be an enormous help when you begin reviewing proposals to make your final decision. These questions are in no particular order of importance, as every practice has its own unique concerns.
1. Are You HIPAA Compliant?
Even though we said these aren't in order of importance, HIPAA compliance is probably your top worry. You need a system with exemplary security to protect you and your patients from data hacks, so ask the vendor about their HIPAA compliance policies and security measures.
2. Is it a User-Friendly, Cloud-Based Platform?
When it comes to technology solutions, cloud-based is nearly always the preferred option. You have no worries about data storage, installing software, or hosting concerns. Cloud-based software updates regularly and is typically more user-friendly. That means that the interface is simple, controls are intuitive, and design is simple. When in doubt, have members of your team help test the software. You and your team should be able to get a feel for how well it will fit into your practice's workflow.
3. What Is the Total Cost of the Service?
Like pretty much everything else in your practice, the cost of telemedicine software includes more than the initial purchase price. Some of these charges are one-time deals, and others come with recurring monthly, quarterly, or yearly fees.
In addition to maintenance package, setup costs, and monthly fees, you may also have hardware costs. Depending on the type of software, this could include kiosks, data storage, carts, screens, and more. The software provider may not even be the one that provides all of this hardware, so consider this question carefully and get quotes for any hardware you need that is not included with your software. Of course, you also need to make sure the hardware and software are compatible.
4. What are the Video Quality and Communications Capability?
Your software needs to provide excellent video quality to support accurate diagnosis. You also need it to work with current systems and have the ability to grow with you. Testing the system before buying is key; it's the only way to know how well it performs in a field environment. Of course, if you serve patients in a rural area, Internet connections may be less than ideal. But, the more reliable and capable your system is, the better it handles a poor infrastructure on the patient end.
Other capability and compatibility questions include:
- Does it allow streaming of peripheral devices, such as EKGs, stethoscopes, and ultrasounds?
- Does it allow you share lab tests, MRIs, x-rays, and other diagnostics in a real-time environment?
- Does it have network requirements that would forbid remote connections with patients in a home environment?
- Does it include camera control that allows you to zoom in on a patient in a home environment?
- Does it include specific browser requirements?
- Does it require IT support on your end?
- Does it work with mobile devices?
- Follow-up question: Are there any mobile platforms it does not support?
- Does the system support text-only chat?
- Follow-up question: Does this feature allow you or the patient to share images, such as photographs?
When testing out the software, include your clinicians so you can get their feedback on the system's capabilities and usability. If they have issues, it may be a problem with the software itself or it may be user error due to lack of training. In other words, testing the software isn't a one-and-done scenario. You and your team need time to demo the platform in multiple scenarios to develop a true picture of its capabilities.
5. Does the System Support Device Integration?
Most telemedicine software does not include health device integration. This includes a wide variety of devices that many patients use, everything from home blood pressure and glucose monitors to FitBit and MiBand devices. However, even if the system doesn't include this integration, it should still have the capability to read the data from these devices.
6. What Kind of Additional Features are Offered?
Look carefully at the additional features offered to determine which ones your practice must have. Some extra features seem like luxury items and then you use them and can't believe you ever operated a practice without them.
- Billing: Integrated billing is great for streamlining your workflow, especially if you charge a flat fee for telemedicine visits or employ a direct-pay model.
- EMR compatibility: Most practices seem to design workflow around their EMR. Ideally, your telehealth software allows you to import your records.
- ePrescribe: This feature allows you to send prescriptions directly to the patient's pharmacy by simply touching a few buttons. It isn't a priority for most, but often enters "how did we live without this" territory.
- Mobile application: True remote healthcare requires software that includes a mobile app. You need to know what devices it runs on, as well, such as iOS, Android, and Windows.
7. Does the Product Include Online Workflow Features?
You want software that fits seamlessly into your workflow, from scheduling all the way to billing and record keeping. Ask about:
- Appointment setting
- Communicating before the appointment begins
- Customizing patient intake forms
- EMR integration options
- Patient wait queues
- Record keeping
- Sending reminders and notifications
- Signing consent forms
8. Is the Platform Capable of Processing Reimbursement?
Even if your plan is direct pay, it's always a good idea to ask the vendor how reimbursement works. Does the software automatically generate a record of or invoice for the visit? What type of documentation does it include? The vendor's answers should demonstrate that he or she understands how reimbursement actually works.
9. Do You Offer Training and Support?
Whether you're looking to open a telemedicine clinic or looking to add telehealth capabilities to your traditional healthcare facility, you need to know about training and support.
As regards training, ask whether the vendor offers individual or group training sessions. Do they conduct training on-site, via webinar only, or both? Does training include collateral materials, such as manuals and guides? Is the cost of training included in the cost of the software, or is there an extra fee? For support, you need to know what happens if the system goes down for any reason. Do they offer both phone and online support? What is the standard response time? For reference, one hour is the industry standard.
Closely related is whether the vendor offers a dedicated support team, especially when you first launch the software and have to worry about training and ironing out any issues. The more support you have in the beginning, the greater your chances of success, and a dedicated team working with you through the rollout greatly increases your odds.
10. Does the Vendor Provide Marketing Materials?
If you're opening a telemedicine practice or even just adding remote care to your existing model, you want to get the word out and let patients, as well as other providers, know about it. If the vendor offers any marketing resources, this is a nice bonus.
Before Signing, Ask Around
If you have any colleagues who practice telemedicine, talk to them before you even begin checking out vendors. They're your best bet for the unbiased, non-sales reality of working with that software day in, day out. If you don't know any providers who use telemedicine software, go ahead and start shopping, but make sure to ask the vendor for a list of practices that use their software. Then, call those practices. Many people skip this step, figuring the vendor wouldn't offer the referral if they weren't confident. Even if that's true, it still helps you get a good idea of what the software looks like in practice.