What exactly is a “virtual practice”?
In healthcare, the term “virtual” immediately brings telehealth to mind: patient visits conducted by synchronous audio-video, remote patient monitoring, and collaborative consults done at a distance.
But virtual practice management addresses much more than video connections between doctors and patients. Virtual practice management applies technology to various points of the practice workflow, in many cases significantly reducing — or eliminating — manual front-office tasks. This tech-focused approach, often automated, is designed to bring convenience (and happiness) to staff, improve patient satisfaction, boost productivity, and continue keeping everyone safe.
With a need to limit physical contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of healthcare providers have made virtual care a bigger part of their practice management in 2020. The industry experienced a massive 4,347% year-over-year increase of telehealth usage in March, and saw a prediction of more than one billion telehealth visits for the year.
As the pandemic has evolved, however, patients have returned in greater numbers to in-person appointments. According to a late June update by the Commonwealth Fund, office visits are now 18 percent below a pre-COVID-19 baseline — an increase of more than 50 percentage points from two months earlier.
Forward-thinking healthcare practices have looked beyond the immediate national health emergency. As the volume of in-office patient visits continues to stabilize (with change always a potential in the current environment), smart practice owners are establishing a strategic longer-term use of telehealth.
This includes determining the most effective ways and times to use telehealth visits in the schedule mix. It also requires looking beyond the current privacy waivers to decide on a virtual care platform that’s HIPAA-compliant.
Where does “virtual practice management” go from there?
Consider the elements of your practice workflow that demand manual work. Think about tasks that apply to nearly all patients, for which your practice usually has a “one at a time” approach. This is work that may require paper and pen, phone call lists, and faxes. It also lacks visibility or insight to your progress.
Virtual practice management makes it a lot easier to manage your practice. Online tools and technology remove excess work from your operation and create business benefits to help any healthcare practice:
These six aspects of virtual practice management can transform how you connect with patients and how you conduct business.
1. Online scheduling
If you want to drive appointment volume (virtual and in-person) and cut down on incoming phone calls, online scheduling is the answer. Wherever patients find you online — your website, Google, or another listings site — giving them the opportunity to request an appointment on the spot is paramount. With a single click or tap, patients can see a schedule that you customize, and can request a visit without having to call your office.
2. Automated appointment reminders
Regardless of your practice size, if a staff member is still running down a phone list and calling patients with an appointment reminder, you’re doing it wrong. Not only is this time-consuming, but calls often lead to voicemails, limiting your visibility into potential no-shows.
The key is to get off the phone. Automated appointment reminders send an email or text message to each patient, following a specific cadence designed to curtail no-shows. In a 2020 survey, 66.8 percent of patients told PatientPop they prefer text messages for appointment reminders.
The right technology invites patients to confirm digitally; that means fewer calls to your practice and a clearer look into what tomorrow’s schedule will look like.
3. Digital patient registration
Ditch the clipboard. Digital patient registration gives your patients the flexibility to submit their information on their time. You get all the patient data you need, ahead of each visit, without having to copy or enter information from a hand-filled form into your system. Digital patient registration also removes paperwork (and time) from a patient’s time in your waiting area — if you still have a conventional waiting area.
4. Telehealth visits
Any practice strategy designed to benefit from virtual functionality must include telehealth visits. Now is the time to take full advantage of telehealth as the industry considers an accelerated reduction in virtual care restrictions beyond the national health emergency. As with other operational points on this list, telehealth is remote, convenient and, as more people have experienced virtual care, often a patient preference.
Consider appointment types that make sense as virtual visits for your practice: for quick follow-up, chronic care management, and fast urgent needs; also for visits that tend to suffer from an increased no-show rate.
5. Two-way texting
Text messaging has become one of the most in-demand functionalities for both practices and patients. The ability to ask a question, confirm an appointment, or receive a reminder via mobile device has brought an all-new level of ease and convenience to patients, with more immediacy for the practice.
When you consider the clunky exchange that takes place via your patient portal or a game of phone tag, two-way text messaging is a healthcare communications relief. Don’t forget the new, widespread safety-driven use for text messaging: alerting patients waiting in their cars that the exam room for their appointment is ready.
6. Digital fax
You’d be hard-pressed to find another critical, multi-billion dollar industry as reliant on the fax machine (we’re not sure one exists). For years, this outdated method of delivery has been diverting staff from their tasks so they can await incoming patient data, send orders, and share referral information. Faxes may not go away, but the way you send and receive them gets a significant upgrade with a digital fax service.
Each fax is treated like an email, opened and viewed from a single digital inbox. No more standing by a fax machine or printer, no more wondering if a fax has come in. Ideally, the digital fax service will alert providers or staff that new faxes have arrived via timed notifications.
Every technology on this list brings benefits to healthcare practices. But the real value comes when they can be managed in a unified, efficient manner. When all aspects of the “virtual practice” are accessible from a single healthcare technology platform, value can be truly realized.
Within a single platform, practice staff can track website visitors, check appointment requests and monitor confirmations, initiate telehealth visits, manage digital faxes, send and receive text messages, and even deploy segmented email campaigns. All with a single reporting structure that brings real performance tracking to patient acquisition, satisfaction, and retention.
Instantly see how you compare to other practices in your local area and specialty.