Telehealth emerged into the limelight as a necessary solution for care delivery when the COVID-19 crisis hit, allowing physicians to see patients when in-office visits became prohibitive because of safety concerns.
Now that patients and doctors are more comfortable with telehealth technology, and the quality of care provided as we weather the pandemic, it’s likely telehealth will stick around as a viable and often preferred mode of visit into the future.
Beyond the most immediate needs sparked by the pandemic, there are a number of ways you might use telehealth at your practice. Here are just a few.
Long-term practice flexibility
In May, PatientPop shared 7 Steps to Build Your Telehealth Strategy, which outlined what you might consider when first implementing telehealth and introducing it to your patients.
During that time, and as early as March, the most critical task for doctors was to find a quick, easy, and reliable way to connect with patients in the absence of office visits. The loosening of HIPAA requirements for synchronous telemedicine visits allowed for a “quick fix” of any video platform, including common consumer tools like FaceTime and Skype. (This is still the case as of this writing.)
As some states reopened, practices opened their doors again. Although there was no longer an onslaught of telehealth use, practices continued to conduct virtual visits for specific patients and scenarios, complementing their volume of in-office patient appointments.
Now, in late July 2020, things have changed again. As of this writing, 22 states are either reversing or pausing their reopening plans due to surges of coronavirus cases, so the need for telehealth may be changing again.
To stay flexible during this time and take the greatest advantage of telehealth, consider the types of visits that best benefit your business, patients, and staff if conducted virtually.
These may include:
- Visits that don’t require an in-person exam
- Follow-up care or ongoing care management
- Appointment types or patients that usually have high no-show rates
- Short, five- to ten-minute visits
- Visits with patients who have health conditions that make it difficult to attend in-office appointments
- Visits with patients who experience social restrictions that make it challenging to get to your office
- Tele-triage consultations that allow you to determine if an in-office appointment is necessary
For established patients, review how much of your clinical work is done just with health history, and looking and listening during the encounter. These represent a type of appointment you probably don’t need to conduct in-office — during the pandemic and after.
If you continue to rely on telehealth as a mode of care delivery, you’ll keep your practice flexible for the long-term. You can react as pandemic factors change rapidly, and deliver care faster and more efficiently to your patients.
Long-term patient satisfaction
Patient attitudes about telehealth have changed significantly during the pandemic, in a positive direction. Seventy-four percent of patients have expressed comfort with virtual visits. With telehealth, patients have fewer barriers to take a proactive role in their continuity of care.
Long after the COVID-19 healthcare crisis, you can expect that more patients will demand the ease and convenience (and provider focus) of telehealth, just as the industry has seen patient preference for online appointment scheduling, confirmations, and reminders.
Not only can a regular rhythm of virtual appointments help you retain patients, but the opportunity at shorter “check-in” appointments can drive better patient adherence. Ultimately, patients can connect convenience and comfort to ongoing wellness.
Long-term practice growth
Practices that integrate telehealth into their business are best positioned for survival now and success later — even while recognizing that technology won’t ever completely replace the need for, and advantages of, in-office care.
Current developments point to a continued evolution of technology, regulation, and insurance requirements to make telehealth a greater presence in daily healthcare delivery.
The financial implication of an investment in telehealth, and the right telehealth technology, is likely to be positive, too. Telehealth visits can help boost your revenue, even if they simply open up an opportunity to see more patients with less strain. Some of the key benefits to your bottom line include:
- Reimbursements for telephone-only follow-up
- Removal of geographic barriers, allowing you to market to and attract patients from different regions or states
- Protection from new types of competition (retail clinics, urgent care facilities, online-only doctors) when you offer virtual care
- Reduction of no-shows and cancellations
- Increased front office efficiency, with the ability to easily fill schedule gaps, maximize billable hours, and keep appointments flowing smoothly
- Extended or modified office hours, usually by offering evening or weekend telehealth visits
- Ability to add more services to your practice, such as virtual visit weight loss consultations, or other lifestyle / wellness solutions that complement your traditional services
Ideally, your choice of telehealth platform works within your current workflow (as is the case with PatientPop). That way, the business decisions you make related to when and how to use telehealth aren’t overwhelmed by administrative work required when using a one-off video platform that isn’t integrated into what you do.
Your telehealth strategy and your telehealth platform should both accomplish the same thing: Working smoothly within your practice to drive convenience for patients, providers, and staff, and help you run a flexible, successful practice.