Health studying

With 42 percent of hospitals in the US adopting the telehealth system, telehealth has become quite the hot topic in the information technology (IT) healthcare industry.

Four Health Administration MBA and MS Health Administration students turned a class project on telehealth into a published research paper on physicians’ empowerment and satisfaction through a collaboration with the Computer Science and Information Systems PhD program.

With help from their former teaching assistant and professors, the students’ paper, Provider Empowerment and Satisfaction with Telehealth Exploring Variation Across Structural and Demographic Factors, is being published in the elite healthcare journal Health Management, Policy and Innovation (HMPI), which is managed by Business School Alliance for Health Management (BAHM).

A collaboration between Health Administration programs and the Information Systems PhD program, this research provides more context around telehealth. Their paper will also be read to a network of 16 top business school students and faculty with a health sector focus.

Authors and contributors include:

  • CU Denver Health Administration students:
    • Paul Cook
    • Chadi Hajar
    • Megan McCarthy
    • Breanna Wong
  • CU Denver Computer Science and Information Systems PhD alumnus and former teaching assistant:
    • Matt (Sumate) Permwonguswa, PhD, MIS lecturer at Assumption University, Thailand
  • CU Denver professors:
    • Errol Biggs, PhD, director of Health Administration programs
    • Jiban Khuntia, PhD, assistant professor of Information Systems and co-director of Computer Science and Information Systems PhD program

Telehealth isn’t just for rural communities anymore

Many studies have focused on patient satisfaction with telemedicine; however, little to no research has focused on how the physicians feel about the system. In their Introduction to Health IT class last spring, McCarthy, Cook, Wong, and Hajar surveyed 31 healthcare providers in the Denver area and had some unexpected results.

Typically, telemedicine has been relayed as more of a rural practice rather than an urban practice. However, the survey found that many more urban doctors are implementing telemedicine than predicted.

The survey found that many more urban doctors are implementing telemedicine than predicted.

“When you talk about telehealth or telemedicine in all of our classes, it’s directed towards rural communities, because it’s hard to get access to care. But with this search, there are more urban doctors using it than we expected, and they had high satisfaction rates,” McCarthy elaborated.

The study found that independent male providers aged 41-50 working at urban hospital settings derive higher empowerment and satisfaction from practicing telemedicine. The study defined empowerment as individuals gaining control over matters of interest to them and satisfaction in regards to quality of care and patient satisfaction.

Overcoming obstacles to produce results

Until now, telehealth studies have only explored the contexts of helping patients, curing diseases, and providing access. With this study, health care professionals now have a better understanding of the empowerment and satisfaction of providers that utilize telehealth.

A doctor’s time is incredibly valuable, and it’s well known amongst health researchers that it is nearly impossible to get doctors to fill out surveys. Even with incentives, CU Denver students struggled to get physicians to respond to their survey as well.

It also lends to understanding why so many studies have focused on the patient sector. It’s typically much easier to get patients to answer a survey than it is for physicians to answer one.

“We distributed the survey as widely as we could. Mainly this was through people that we knew and people whom they knew, which were people not necessarily working in rural areas,” Wong added. Wong was one of the students lucky enough to present this research at the BAHM Case Competition this spring.

Luckily, they were able to get a large enough of a sample to find some preliminary conclusions that start a valuable discussion.

The struggle to implement telehealth

“Telemedicine is mainly used in behavioral health because there’s reimbursement for it right now. And there’s probably a lot of physicians dragging their feet to practice telehealth, because they’re not getting paid.” – Paul Cook

 Despite its widespread advantages of providing remote healthcare access to patients, not many providers have adopted telehealth in their practices. This is largely due to the lack of reimbursement and licensing issues.

“Telemedicine is mainly used in behavioral health, because there’s reimbursement for it right now. And there’s probably a lot of physicians dragging their feet to practice telehealth, because they’re not getting paid,” Cook shared.

Cook added that the pediatric cardiologist he works for solely uses telehealth out of convenience since he’s not necessarily getting reimbursed for it, which seems to be true for many urban doctors.

Laying a foundation for future research

“The healthcare community tends to overlook or ignore the organizational challenges associated with technology adoption. These results emphasize the importance of focusing on this issue.” – Matt Permwonguswa

Because this paper is one of the first in the Denver area to focus on the physicians’ attitudes towards telemedicine, it’s likely to influence further studies in this field.

Cook added, “Due to the lack of studies focused solely on doctors and telemedicine, this will hopefully get the ball rolling.”

The research also sends a direct message to the healthcare community. Permwonguswa said, “The healthcare community tends to overlook or ignore the organizational challenges associated with technology adoption. These results emphasize the importance of focusing on this issue.”

A collaborative Business School

The CU Denver Business School builds networks and connections between students. This success in research highlights the power of collaborating across disciplines, namely the Information Systems PhD program and the Health Administration programs.

 “This study is a novel contribution, because it focuses on the champions and changemakers in the telehealth context.”  Jiban Khuntia

Khuntia explained, “Interdisciplinary research needs a breeding ground for a cross-pollination of ideas.” The project is a manifestation of just that. These MBA and MS students were involved in the collection of real-time data and the PhD student helped in the modeling and analysis.

“This study is a novel contribution because it focuses on the champions and changemakers in the telehealth context,” Khuntia said.

The CU Denver Health Administration MBA prepares students for senior and C-Suite positions in the healthcare industry. The program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management for Education (CAHME) and CU Denver has joined the BAHM network. This network includes other top-ranked institutions from across the country including Harvard, Northwestern, and Yale.

The Computer Science and Information Systems PhD program provides next generation thought leaders to the global workforce. Students in the program have completed relevant research projects on hot-button topics including social media, police body cameras, and healthcare.

The CU Denver Business School is proud to support this mindset of collaboration within academia and hopes the conversation has sparked further study into better understanding the value of telehealth from the physician’s point of view.

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