Telemedicine has been up and coming for a very long time. It was mainly used to provide health care to people who are in remote locations, cannot leave their homes, or can’t physically visit the doctor for some other reason. However, as the entire world is locked in their homes, telemedicine and telehealth services have become necessities for public health rather than just niche ways of serving a group of people who need it.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine refers to delivering health care services partially or completely through remote means. So, instead of visiting a hospital or a clinic, patients can connect with healthcare providers remotely to either determine if an actual visit is necessary or to get diagnosed remotely.
Telemedicine is practiced to a certain extent by almost all healthcare providers. When a patient calls a nurse to consult about their symptoms or to get information about a test, they are using telemedicine. However, these are not complete forms of telemedicine services, as they are just supportive practices.
Telemedicine also refers to remote consultations between doctors who might be treating the same patient and these don’t have to be in real time.
What Does HIPAA Have to do with Telemedicine?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has been a hot topic among healthcare professionals for quite some time. It’s even hotter now that, as with any industry, the healthcare industry is getting increasingly digitized.
The main purpose of HIPAA is to protect patient-doctor confidentiality and meet new challenges that rise to jeopardize it. As telemedicine utilizes a wide variety of tools, HIPAA plays an even more important role.
For example, a telemedicine provider might be relying on video calls to diagnose or counsel patients remotely. So, any tool that they use to schedule, communicate, and manage the virtual visit will collect or transmit Patient Health Information (PHI) at least once. Without the necessary precautions taken, all of those cases are considered a HIPAA violation which has quite hefty penalties.
The best way you can avoid such situations is to make sure that all the tools you use are HIPAA compliant. A HIPAA compliant tool should have strong encryption, access controls, self-audit, and authorization protocols. Also, as the healthcare provider, you have to enter a Business Association Agreement with them. These seem daunting, however, not being able to function due to HIPAA violations is far worse.
4 Less Known Methods to Boost Your Practice Using Telemedicine
We usually only associate telemedicine with video and phone calls but there’s much more to telemedicine than what meets the eye. As healthcare services come with a lot of clerical work, some solutions might help to complete these seamlessly in a remote setting. Most clerical tasks include appointment scheduling, payment processing or compensation, data collection & storage, and paperwork.
HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging
Many healthcare providers avoid regular text messaging because it is not HIPAA compliant. Those that choose to use non-compliant texting solutions in support of telemedicine services can face hefty fines.
However, secure, HIPAA compliant messaging is a fast and convenient way to connect with your doctor, and it’s more effective than calling the clinic or sending out an email. It’s easier to access, isn’t as formal as email, and you don’t have to get an answer immediately. As a result, there are a variety of telehealth tools, such as Providertech’s CareCommunity platform, that provide HIPAA compliant text messaging so that healthcare providers and patients can connect with each other by relying on one of the most popular communication methods available.
Another lesser known telehealth tool that can boost your telemedicine capabilities is e-Signatures. e-Signatures are used increasingly by many industries. The healthcare industry is one of them. However, e-Signatures are in a weird spot. They are not officially mentioned in HIPAA, but due to their nature, e-Signature services have to be HIPAA compliant. This can be a little confusing for practices that consult only the official regulatory documents.
As a result, some practices can overlook e-Signatures while setting up their HIPAA compliance and as we all know, HIPAA violations can be quite severe. e-Signatures have to have two-point authentication to validate the signee is the person they claim to be. Therefore, any valid e-Signature service has to become HIPAA compliant as the data collected during authentication is considered as PHI. So, how does e-Signatures help healthcare providers offer telemedicine services?
Well, the main goal of telemedicine is to enable patients to receive healthcare fully from their homes. But, as there’s usually a lot of paperwork, sending paper documents back and forth defeats the purpose. Instead, practices can rely on electronic forms and documents to send, fill, store, and forward secure information quickly. e-Signatures enable that.
In other words, even though they are rarely mentioned in regards to telemedicine or HIPAA compliance, HIPAA compliant e-Signatures are quite important for telemedicine.
One of the other struggles you might face when providing telemedicine is collecting payments. As the entire process is done remotely, collecting payments should be done in the same way. This limits payment collection methods to only a handful. The most obvious one is collecting payments over the phone, but this has its own difficulties. First of all, not every card allows phone payments. Secondly, they might not be too secure. And finally, due to many reasons, there can be a lot of failed payments.
Some telemedicine platforms have their own integrated payment systems. But for practices that provide telemedicine partly, the best way to collect payments is to do so via online payments.
You can collect online payments through payment gateways but these might be time-consuming due to hassles associated with registering and setting them up. Another way you can collect payments is to use online payment forms that can be directly sent to the patient to fill out and pay.
These can add a lot of convenience and speed to a part of your practice that patients don’t enjoy all that much.
Scheduling appointments is already a big issue for healthcare providers. Missed appointments, mistakes in scheduling, and overall inefficiencies are quite costly and can even prevent people from receiving the necessary clinical services.
Appointment scheduling can become a bit more difficult to manage when you’re providing remote care. Successfully pulling off appointment scheduling perfectly requires practices to execute 3 important steps.
The first step is scheduling the actual appointment. So, you’ll set up software that can plot time slots for clients to choose from. The second step is to verify scheduled appointments so that you don’t waste a time slot for a miss-click. The final step is following up and setting up recurring appointments if necessary.
Telemedicine, just like remote working, has been discussed and practiced quite widely. But with the recent pandemic, it has been forced upon almost all healthcare organizations. Thanks to many tools already available, the shift hasn’t been too painful but there are so many pieces of the puzzle that some might have overlooked.
If you enjoyed this article you might want to check “6 Benefits of Telehealth for Healthcare Providers“ to learn more about telehealth.
Author Short Bio:
Name: Su Kaygun Sayran
Bio: Grown up in Melbourne and lived in various corners of the world, Su loves writing about all things tech. His experience with various SaaS businesses has enabled him to carry his passion for writing into the tech industry. Currently working at JotForm, helping people become more productive, one blog post at a time.
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