Part one of a two-part series that covers the steps to take now and in the near future to secure a thriving practice.
With the arrival of the novel coronavirus, telehealth technology has become a necessity. But this necessity has kickstarted a massive trend to come: Long after the national health emergency ends, virtual care will become a preferred mode of care to patients and their doctors.
Before deciding on the right telehealth technology, private practices have many considerations to take into account — to survive as a business in the near term, and thrive in the future.
The in-office, personal relationship between healthcare providers and patients has always been at the center of care. That human interaction will never go away, nor should it. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has forced practices to adjust that connection, using telehealth to maintain both the continuity of care and the trusted doctor-patient relationship. Telehealth is a rapid response to this modern crisis, but it will have lasting impact, with a variety of healthcare benefits.
Telehealth has gained popularity in a few different ways. In the first scenario, it has been used increasingly within forward-thinking health systems that are looking to improve follow-up care, bring convenience to patients, and cut costs.
In the second scenario, large telehealth networks cater to patients with hundreds of on-call doctors. In most cases, a patient logs in to an online network and sees an available physician. This serves a valuable need for immediate care, but the patient doesn’t get to see their local, trusted doctor.
Before the need to expand care during the crisis, private practices had limited opportunities to use telehealth for care and receive reimbursement for their services. For instance, telehealth for typical E/M visits had been generally restricted to patients in rural areas, who lack easy access to care, or in healthcare facilities.
Now adopting telehealth has become an immediate, pressing need for nearly all healthcare providers. In a PatientPop March 2020 survey of private practices, nine out of ten expressed interest in a telehealth solution, reflecting the technology’s new status as a care necessity.
Government and insurance telehealth requirements have been recently relaxed, or removed altogether, in response to COVID-19. These changes, enacted with remarkable speed, are expected to set the stage for the widespread adoption of telehealth in the near future. It’s unlikely that all loosened requirements will remain after the pandemic, but some may not revert back. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
There are a number of factors that indicate the healthcare industry is likely to hold onto expanded telehealth use.
Here are some of the changes CMS has enacted for Medicare patients to help them access care:
Telehealth payments are also moving toward parity with reimbursements for care delivered in person. Before the national health emergency, 10 states had payment parity between in-person and virtual care. Now, CMS is reimbursing telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits. Commercial payers, which often follow the lead of CMS, are also expanding opportunities for network providers to utilize telehealth.
Procedure codes for usual office visits have also been modified so all providers can conduct those visits virtually, and properly bill for them.
In the current crisis, you may have quickly selected a video platform to help bring you through the current crisis. Or, you may have referred your patients to telehealth networks.
You may want to also think ahead to a more comprehensive telehealth approach. There are several considerations to review.
The most important is that medicine will no longer be practiced the way it was before the global pandemic, and you can take advantage of the many benefits to your business and patients.
Benefits for the patient
Benefits for your practice
You can also use telehealth as a patient acquisition tool when you continue to market your telehealth services in online search, across your web profiles, and on your practice website. (See more below).
Along with the benefits of telehealth come specific pitfalls of some solutions.
Drawbacks of ‘quick-fix’ video-app-only solutions
For the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, regulators have relaxed telehealth requirements to increase patient access to care. That means private practices can use non-HIPAA-compliant two-way video technologies such as FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype as a temporary option. However, these don’t meet HIPAA compliance requirements. After the national emergency lifts, providers should be prepared to shift to a compliant solution to continue with telehealth appointments.
Video apps that lack HIPAA compliance aren’t designed for healthcare and, therefore, can’t be integrated into your practice management system. This makes it difficult to manage patient volume for an extended period of time, and forces your staff to move back and forth between the stand-alone video app and your pre-existing practice management system.
These apps also lack the tools to really help your practice work efficiently. They don’t have features that allow your staff to manage virtual visit schedules, send appointment confirmations and reminders, process patient intake forms, and take secure patient payments.
Drawbacks to ‘referring’ your patients to telehealth networks
If your patients have health concerns during the COVID-19 crisis, and you don’t offer virtual visits as an option, patients may ask you to recommend a telehealth network. They will almost always prefer to see you, but will seek another way to meet their needs if necessary.
Large telehealth-only networks can be useful but, by their own admission, they’re intended to fill gaps in between visits with a patient’s usual providers.
Now is the time for your practice to begin offering an alternative to these networks, or risk losing opportunities to see your own patients.
The best telehealth scenario for practices going forward
You are best positioned for future business success and improved patient satisfaction if you adopt an end-to-end telehealth solution that works with your business, and regulatory, compliance, security, and workflow requirements.
Part Two of the series will be published on Thursday, April 23, and focuses on what practices should look for in a telehealth platform, and how telehealth could work with other smart devices and technologies in the future.
Learn more about PatientPop Telehealth by visiting patientpop.com/telehealth.
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