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Nurse Executive Focused on Sustainable Telehealth Model and Patient Outcomes

By Kristi Henderson, DNP, NP-C, FAAN, FAEN
SVP of the Center for Digital Health & Innovation for Optum Health
Advisory Council Member, American Board of Telehealth

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to work in health care. Fascinated by the environment in the hospital emergency department, I volunteered when I was old enough, which led me to a career in nursing. As my career progressed, I led change-management initiatives that ultimately began my journey in telehealth.

In 1999 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), before anyone knew what telehealth was or could accomplish, I met the challenge of a lack of access to care amidst a clinical workforce constrained environment with telemedicine. I introduced telehealth services in three initial locations. That application expanded to 500,000 telehealth patient visits in 69 of the state’s 82 counties with 35 medical specialties at more than 200 sites (not including the homes of patients).

While these numbers are impressive, UMMC’s telehealth services focused on provider and patient experiences with rigor around clinical outcomes, quality and impact to the total cost of care. And in 2017, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) named UMMC’s Center as a Telehealth Center of Excellence.

I was eager to expand this initial work beyond the state and pursued my doctorate in nursing to gain the skills necessary to replicate and scale the Mississippi model across the country, which I did replicating and enhancing the model first in Texas, and then, for a national health system.

My experiences led me to a new role leading clinical operations for Amazon Care that further refined my vision for what a digitally enabled system of care should look like. I now lead Telehealth and Innovation for Optum Health, part of United Health Group, where I am merging virtual care services with in-clinic and in-home services using the latest digital health tools and data intelligence.

What Is Next for Telehealth

Digital heath tools can help us reach, engage and build trust in ways we have not been able to within a doctor’s office. The Covid-19 pandemic led to a reliance and awakening of the full potential of telehealth, opening a door for us to truly reinvent the model of care moving forward with removal of barriers, such as cross-state licensure, site of care and payment policies.

Now, we must align incentives, maintain a policy-friendly environment and enable a hassle-free way for patients to use telehealth to ensure sustainability. That’s where ABT comes in to set criteria and become a source of truth for telehealth.

As a member of the ABT Advisory Council, I am surrounded with respected and knowledgeable experts who are working together for the future of telehealth. I recommend that health professionals take the CORE Telehealth Certificate program to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge they need to provide safe and high-quality care through telehealth.

Learn more about the ABT Telehealth Certificate Education Program.