Telehealth has been touted as a potential disruptor in health care. Its benefits are numerous, including cost savings, its potential to reduce readmissions and expanded access to care, especially specialty care. Although the purpose of telehealth lies in the clinical realm, its power begins in sound infrastructure. In fact, Paul Keckley, health care analyst and managing editor of The Keckley Report, a weekly blog, touched on the facility manager's role in virtual care at the American Society for Healthcare Engineering's annual Conference last week in Indianapolis. Keckley says that health systems of the future must have a patient care strategy that involves both "bricks and clicks."

Many health systems are aware that this two-pronged strategy is necessary to cover a broad patient population. For instance, Centura Health runs a growing teleconcussion program in Colorado, while Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami operates a mobile dental unit backed by telehealth. Technology, however, evolves at a rapid pace, which can make precise infrastructure planning necessary but difficult. 

In a recent article, Ted Hood, principal and technology discipline leader, and Jeff Looney, associate principal and technology team leader, at Mazzetti+GBA, write that new technologies not only will affect clinician workflows, but also the built environment, and that "architects should consider the impact of these technology advances in facility design."

Failing to do so could cause trouble down the road, according to Debbie Gregory, DNP, R.N., senior clinical consultant with Smith Seckman Reid Inc.

"Due to its complexity and the interdependence of dozens of systems and components, technology integration requires a thoughtfully developed and carefully executed strategy," she writes in "Six steps for planning low-voltage systems."

She goes on to write that "technology planning that is too late and not well-organized can cost a project enormous time and money, as well as frustrate the entire team."

What that plan looks like will differ from system to system. Some may opt for stand-alone virtual care centers for follow-up care and consultations while others may host wellness care centers to engage patients using personal health devices in remote monitoring.

Whatever the plan, as Keckley said at ASHE's conference, "Digital health is here to stay," and the health systems of the future must have a plan.  

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