Integrating Telehealth into the Organization’s Work System

Integrating Telehealth into the Organization’s Work System

Joachim Jean-Jules (Université de Sherbrooke, Canada) and Alain O. Villeneuve (Université de Sherbrooke, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-783-8.ch310

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Introduction

Telehealth has emerged as a key strategy for providing healthcare services to underserved or difficult-to-serve populations and low-cost specialty services to areas where full-time staffing would be uneconomical. It is expected to provide many other benefits such as shortening the timeframe for decision-making related to diagnosis and treatment, cutting emergency transfer costs, reducing expenses for patient travel from remote regions to healthcare service points, reducing delays in providing healthcare, promoting continuous healthcare, and attracting and retaining clinicians in remote regions.

However, the experience with telehealth has not always been positive, for many reasons: lack of acceptance by physicians, poor-quality technology (e.g., low resolution video data), and premature funding termination (Bashur, Sanders and Shannon, 1997). Although some of these limitations have been resolved recently, additional problems have emerged such as legal issues pertaining to professional liability and cross-province licensing; safety guidelines and standards regarding interconnectivity and interoperability; and the privacy, security and confidentiality of individually identifiable health information (DHSS, 2001).

Despite these barriers, governments keep funding telehealth projects and programs. Motivated by the collective performance of such programs in terms of clinical value and technical feasibility, governments are trying to integrate telehealth into the mainstream clinical care system. This concern, which seems a priori to be related to management, is also technological in nature, given the central role of information technologies in telehealth projects. Incorporating telehealth into the health-care system means inserting telehealth systems into clinical and administrative routines and integrating them into the technological and information architecture.

As a result, integration calls for adjustments not only to healthcare organizations’ administrative and clinical routines (Saga and Zmud, 1994) but also to their work systems and technological configurations (Chatterjee and Segars, 2001; Keen and McDonald, 2000; Cooper and Zmud, 1990; Kwon, 1987). Indeed, to be truly valuable, telehealth systems not only need be accepted but also must be smoothly assimilated (routinized and infused) into existing routines, as well as into clinical and administrative functions (Zmud and Apple, 1992; The Lewin Group, 2000). Many experts recognize that the most effective telehealth programs are those that are most seamlessly integrated into current clinical and business practice and that can operate on their own in the absence of outside funding (Akerman, 2000). Their success should be measured by the extent to which they are no longer stand-alone applications (Grigsby, Schlenker, Kaehny, Shaughnessy and Sandberg, 1995).

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