By Aine Cryts
Joel Vengco, vice president and chief information officer at Baystate Health (Springfield, Mass), says that telehealth can help keep patients local and provide access to nonacute primary care services, and he thinks patients will be willing to pay for the convenience. We tapped Vengco for insight on this topic.
IE: Why are you so excited about telehealth?
Vengco: Healthcare has to become a service industry. Telehealth is going to create convenience and service for patients and providers alike. That’s really the baseline for having telehealth.
But convenience is only a piece of this. It’s also about being able to provide care immediately and anywhere. At Baystate Health, we’ve got this notion of keeping healthcare local. Telehealth helps us provide this capability in our local area. Without having to come to our tertiary hospital, patients in our larger geographic region can stay in their community hospital and still have access to one of our specialty physicians.
IE: Tell me your plans for serving your greater geographic region of Pioneer Valley.
Vengco: Our region is our first and foremost priority. We have four hospitals and 90 medical centers spread across this region, and we want to make sure we can collaborate with them. A great way to do that is with teleconsults and e-consults; we’re doing this today with telestroke, teleneurology, and telespeech consults.
Keeping patients local—and not having to ship them to our tertiary care hospital 45 to 50 minutes away—is what we want. We’d rather have them stay at their local hospital. Our telespeech therapy consults, in particular, have been a huge patient satisfier in this regard.
IE: Tell me what the patient experience would be like.
Vengco: Let’s think about what CVS and Walmart are doing, and other new ways for patients to get access to nonacute primary care services. Why do they want to go to CVS rather than to the ER or urgent care at the hospital? It gets back to convenience. They have immediate access for treatment of their allergy, their sore throat, and their cuts and bruises.
Baystate Health needs to have our own readily accessible care for patients. Eventually, we want to provide the capability of e-visits via our patient portal. In fact, we built our patient portal with that goal in mind. We want to work hard to maintain the patient-provider relationship, and that requires some cultural and behavioral changes.
Patients may pay by credit card or we may have their payor connected to our health system. They may pay $50 for the e-consult.
Compare that, for example, to my wife’s situation when she needs to have her physician authorize her prescription refill. She may need to take time off from work, wait in the doctor’s office, and then see the physician for 15 to 30 minutes. I’d rather pay $50 for the convenience of an e-visit.
About Joel Vengco:
Joel Vengco is responsible for the information and technology vision, strategy, and operations of the entire Baystate Health system. Previously, he was vice president and general manager of a global business unit within GE Healthcare IT. He has also served as director of IT and chief applications officer at Boston Medical Center, where he oversaw various enterprise health IT applications and technologies.
Vengco is a senior fellow at Boston University’s Health Policy Institute. He has an undergraduate degree from Boston College and master’s degrees from Harvard University and Boston University School of Medicine.