Outlook for Chief Telehealth Officer Role

by Beverly Harvey

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CTO

Of all C-Suite roles, the Chief Telehealth Officer (CTO) role is arguably the most affected by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic and is thus likely to present growth opportunities.

The Chief Telehealth Officer role is sometimes identical or similar to roles with such titles as CEO for Telemedicine, Chief Health Information Officer, and Chief Healthcare Technology Officer, the latter two of which may encompass telehealth along with other aspects of health technology. At companies whose sole focus is telehealth, the CEO role becomes synonymous with Chief Telehealth Officer.

In what CNBC’s Bertha Coombs calls “a massive expansion” from pre-pandemic telemedicine usage, virtual health-care interactions were predicted to top 1 billion by the end of 2020, aided in part by government expansion of Medicare reimbursement for telehealth as part of its stimulus package. In a study by Clearlink, a marketing company focused on customer experience, almost 75 percent of respondents said they’d consider using telehealth to be remotely screened for COVID-19, with two-thirds agreeing the pandemic has increased their willingness to try virtual care.

Even before the pandemic, however, telehealth was on an upward trajectory; in 2019 Lyle Berkowitz, MD, Chief Medical Officer for MDLive, attributed growth to “consumer demand, reimbursement alignment, and an improved regulatory environment.” Reduced costs, potential to generate patient satisfaction, and the quest for quality also contribute to telehealth’s growth. Virtual care is seen as a way to help prevent caregiver burnout.

Strong leadership and telehealth governance are seen as keys to growth by Telehealth and Medicine Today researchers Bryan Arkwright, Jeff Jones, Thomas Osborne, Guy Glorioso, and John Russo, Jr., who assert from an implementation perspective, the “telehealth executive champion” and the “telehealth leader” play important roles.

Key Competencies for the CTO Role

The Telehealth and Medicine Today researchers identified four sources for “telehealth executive champion” hires: Internal candidates with experience in telehealth planning or operational implementation, internal candidates with backgrounds in business development and leading clinical operations, telehealth-experienced external hires who have started and led a “matrix-aligned telehealth program,” and interim leaders from organizations open to all viable and established solutions, as well as experience starting and leading a matrix-aligned telehealth program.

Typically, an MD degree is required for the CTO role.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CTO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Ability to recruit physicians and allied-health professionals to the telehealth program.
  • Vision for the organization’s clinical direction.
  • Knowledge of emerging models in healthcare delivery.
  • Healthcare leadership experience.
  • Innovative drive to achieve business goals and objectives.
  • Collaborative abilities to build partnerships with other health-delivery systems to achieve affordable outcomes.
  • Strategic approach.
  • Telehealth policy-making skill.

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CTO role, expand their horizons in an existing CTO role, or even rise beyond the CTO role:

  • The riches may be in the niches. Specialization provides additional growth into such areas as telepediatrics, teleradiology, telepathology, telecardiology, teledermatology, telepsychiatry, and many more. Provider-to-Provider telehealth is another niche area.
  • You may not need a healthcare background. Citing high demand for healthcare technology talent, healthcare recruiter Bonnie Siegel, notes that IT professionals from other industries are sometimes sought for executive telehealth roles; however, relaxation of the MD requirement is more common for Chief Healthcare Technology Officers than for Chief Telehealth Officers.
  • Growth provides opportunities for women. MedCity News’s Christina Hernandez Sherwood cites Julie Hall-Barrow, vice president for virtual health and innovation at Children’s Health, Dallas, for her observation that “the number and variety of jobs in telehealth have created new opportunities for women across business, clinical, and technology sectors. The value of women in health IT leadership roles is evident, resulting in increased numbers of women holding senior leadership roles in telehealth, health systems, and health IT in general.”
  • Expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) is an increasingly important asset. Recognition of AI and machine learning as valuable tools in telehealth is on the rise. Those well-versed in these technologies will likely be seen as attractive CTO candidates.

 CTO Trends to Watch

  • More and more physicians are adopting telehealth. Physician adoption of telehealth increased 340 percent from 2015 to 2018, notes American Well’s Telehealth Index 2019 Physician-Survey, with almost 70 percent of respondents who hadn’t yet adopted indicating a willingness to try telehealth. Physician adoption is yet another growth indicator that bodes well for prospective CTOs.
  • Telehealth training is expanding. Medical and nursing schools are integrating telehealth into their programs, notes Todd Czartoski, MD, Chief Executive Telehealth, Providence St. Joseph Health. Aspiring CTOs will have greater opportunities to build early-career expertise.
  • Growth is also expected on the patient side. In a survey cited on the blog of General Devices, 74 percent of respondents said they are willing to use telehealth services, while 76 percent of patients surveyed said they find access to healthcare more important than in-person appointments. It is not unreasonable to speculate that these numbers will skyrocket as more and more patients have no choice but to use telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, and ideally have a positive experience.

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