The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown telehealth and virtual services into the spotlight. Prior to March 2020, the complexity of billing, lower reimbursement, limitations on use, and privacy and security concerns stood in the way for many providers. Now, much of that has changed for the duration of the pandemic, and it is likely that some of these changes are here to stay.
With everyone moving so fast to get telehealth and virtual services in place, it’s easy to choose quick-fix solutions or make mistakes. For long-term success, however, there are many strategies to help ensure success.
In this series of blog posts, we'll look at the different components of choosing and implementing telmedicine to ensure success starting with how to choose the right system.
How will you use telehealth and virtual visits?
There are several ways to conduct telehealth and virtual visits. The different types of visits include:
- Telehealth visits: Real time, synchronous audio and video telecommunications technology. Select services can be performed using only the telephone.
- Telephone visits: Encounter between patient and provider—traditionally via phone.
- Virtual check-ins: Brief (5-10 minutes) check-in with patients via telephone or other device to decide whether an office visit or other service is needed. Review of patient recorded video and/or images submitted by a patient (aka, store and forward).
- E-visits: Asynchronous (aka not in real time) office visit between patient and provider traditionally through a patient portal or secure email.
- Remote monitoring: Remote monitoring of physiologic parameter(s) through medical devices.
Aside from choosing the actual tools you will use for these types of visits, you also have to decide what types of visits can be conducted through telehealth. This requires setting some clear clinical guidelines about which chief complaints qualify. During a time like the COVID-19 pandemic, those guidelines may be broadened, but that should still be defined by clinical leadership to ensure that quality patient care remains the priority.
Also, consider your workflow and what will be most effective for providers and patients. Will you need to make changes to your workflow? What will they be? Can you support that with existing resources and technology? Are you more prepared to support one type of visit over another? For example, perhaps you can do telephone visits more easily now or have a two-way text tool that enable text-based check-ins but are not yet set up for video visits. If you want to add video, what else will you need to do to support that? Finally, are these changes sustainable post-COVID?
How to choose the right telehealth tools?
Many factors go into choosing a telehealth tool or tools. Once you decide to move ahead with telehealth, you’ll need to determine what type of visits you will offer. If it includes video telehealth, you’ll need to consider several factors, including:
- Ease of use: Is the solution easy to use for both providers and patients? If it’s too complicated to get on, both patients and providers may struggle to use it successfully. Ideally, you want to be able to send a link and a sentence or two of basic instruction at the most and know that patients can get on without much, if any, help.
- Implementation: Is it easy to set up? How long will it take? Does it require additional software installation? Or is it cloud-based? Especially right now, you need a solution that can be up and running almost immediately. Therefore, a cloud-based system that can be turned on quickly and easily is a good choice.
- Cost: Some systems come with many added costs like equipment, set-up, training, ongoing upgrades, and support. Or they have a limited number of licenses and the cost increases considerably as more are added. Look for a system with a subscription fee that is by practice or by provider that covers all costs for one price without additional add-on fees.
- Support: Will the vendor help you set up your system and provide support at no additional cost? Is support available through a variety of channels like chat, online community, phone, and email? Will you get the support of additional best practice education and resources?
- Technology features: Is the system secure, HIPAA compliant, and high-definition for video? Are there features that support the overall workflow (scheduling, reminders, intake forms, follow-up surveys, etc.)? Is it mobile friendly? Does the vendor support any other virtual services like text check-ins with photos and videos? Does it integrate with other systems?
- Security: HIPAA was mentioned above. Is the system secure? Does it protect patients’ privacy and their data? Rules may be relaxed for a little while, but ultimately, you will need a system that is compliant. If you are choosing a system now, make sure it is one that can support your telehealth and virtual visit workflow for the long term. Will you need to get a new Business Associate Agreement to ensure long-term compliance?
To get the complete guide on how to choose and implement telemedicine, download this helpful guide.