Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth services are imperative to ensure patients can safely receive the medical care they need while also protecting the health of their clinicians. Fortunately, launching telehealth at your practice doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re thinking about starting a telehealth program during a public health crisis, here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure you successfully launch virtual visits that meet your business needs and the medical needs of your patients.
Step 1: Understand how HIPAA and state regulations apply to telemedicine.
Like all healthcare technology, you must use HIPAA-compliant video conferencing or telehealth platforms to ensure the security and privacy of all protected health information (PHI). One of the best ways to ensure your telehealth services comply with HIPAA is to partner with a telehealth platform provider who is well-versed in HIPAA regulations and will sign a Business Associates Agreement (BAA).
State regulations related to telemedicine vary but many policies are beginning to embrace telehealth as a supplement to traditional health care, especially in the current health landscape. Since the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services announced a directive for broader use of telemedicine, federal officials are removing many regulatory and reimbursement barriers during the public health emergency that previously prevented widespread adoption of telehealth. And, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has already added various flexibilities to improve virtual care access, including temporarily approving more than 80 telehealth-based services.
Step 2: Determine how your practice will use telehealth.
Before you get started with telehealth implementation at your practice, it’s important to have a clear vision and defined goals for how your practice should leverage virtual care. Understanding your goals and outlining how you will measure progress towards those goals will keep you on track for a successful telehealth launch.
Telehealth is the common name used to encompass a broad use of electronic information and telecommunication technology to deliver healthcare services, ranging from virtual chronic disease management via text messaging or sending email updates to patients.
Most frequently, telehealth, or telemedicine, refers to clinical care delivered using secure videos. Even so, there’s a variety of ways telehealth is implemented across small practices and large health systems. For example, some practices use a telehealth application that patients need to download. Others can send URL links that open directly in the user’s web browser.
Some clinicians may choose to offer telehealth services within certain blocks of times and days of the week. Others may choose to transition completely to remote care services. In other instances, some practices may elect to offer virtual appointments during evening and weekend hours when the office is traditionally closed. Other things to consider include:
- Appointment types (E.g. walk-ins or appointment-only visits)
- Pre-screening uses (E.g. screening for COVID-19 symptoms)
- Appointment follow-up (E.g. Sending post-visit instructions via text)
- Lab results delivery (e.g. Texting COVID-19 test results)
Fenway Health, a Federally Qualified Community Health Center in Massachusetts, was tasked with implementing a telehealth solution seemingly overnight, like many practices. Their highest priorities were ease of use for patients which would result in increased access to care. They accomplished these goals by anticipating and addressing patient needs through FAQ material as well as a designated internal technical group to support clinical teams. Through their partnership with Providertech, they were able to prevent duplicate workflows and together they automated the sending of the virtual visit URL. A positive uptick in virtual care ensued among the most underserved patient populations.
Step 3: Identify champions to lead the transition to telehealth.
From the health IT department to health administration, your staff’s involvement is critical to the success of telehealth at your practice. Engaging your team early will help everyone to feel invested in the success of telemedicine implementation because they can help ensure roll-out meets their business needs. Consider appointing a few individuals to lead the charge so that there are dedicated leaders who can delegate tasks, troubleshoot concerns and coordinate communication with any third-party vendors.
Step 4: Find the right telehealth partner and platform.
Once you’ve determined how you want to use telehealth at your practice, do your homework to find out what company will be the best partner for you. You’ll want to consider things like:
- HIPAA compliant platforms
- Quick implementation and roll-out using turn-key solutions
- Options for customizing workflows
- How they meet reimbursement requirements
- Integration with your health records
Step 5: Streamline your telehealth workflow with EHR integrations.
While an out-of-box telemedicine solution helps get your practice up and running with virtual care, it’s important to build custom workflows that meet your unique business needs—and the needs of your patient population. Doing so allows you to scale your telehealth services beyond just video conferencing so that you can seamlessly stay connected with patients wherever they care in their care journey.
For example, a customized workflow could leverage streamlined integrations with health records to send appointment reminders ahead of the visit, ensuring you minimize no-shows. And, with the right partner, you could use secure text messaging to conduct patient outreach to specific groups of patients who are overdue for wellness visits, preventative screenings, and other healthcare services. With robust EHR integrations, messages, outreach, and workflows can be personalized based on a variety of EHR fields, from patient language and insurance class to comorbidities and age.
EHR integrations also ensure that visit notes and follow-ups are automatically and securely synced to a patient’s medical records after a virtual visit. This ensures continuity of care as they continue to receive medical care at your practice.
With Providertech’s help, Adelante Healthcare used secure texting to offer patients who had an office visit within the last 12 months to have a home screening kit or mammography requisition sent directly to their home rather than obtaining it in the office. In just one week, we received responses from over 450 patients for colorectal cancer screening alone.
Step 6: Train your team to use the telehealth platform.
Telehealth should make your life easier, not harder. That’s why it’s important to use simple technology that requires minimal equipment and only a few steps to launch telehealth. Depending on your telehealth platform, most practices only need a computer with audio and video capabilities to conduct virtual consultations. Consider how you will conduct provider training and encourage “bedside manner” delivered virtually to ensure the patient experience remains personalized, warm, and thorough.
Step 7: Educate your patients about your telehealth services.
Once your staff is on board and your telehealth services are ready to go, use email, phone, social media, and in-office collateral to promote your virtual offerings. More patients are adopting telehealth services than ever before to minimize exposure to COVID-19, but it’s helpful to proactively address frequently asked questions so patients know exactly what to expect and how to engage with your practice virtually.