Part two 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.
Here are some basics that must be included in a telehealth platform for immediate success during the national emergency and growth on the long road ahead.
- Digital patient registration. Prior to a virtual visit, your patients should be able to submit their symptoms, allergies, medications, history, preferred pharmacy, and payment information directly within the platform. (Some information won’t need to be repeated in subsequent visits, of course.)
Why this is important: Patients have a better experience if they don’t have to wade through in-office paperwork forms, and instead can submit their information online, before their visit. This also streamlines the intake process for your office staff; they can avoid re-entering information multiple times and pertinent details are automatically shared with you.
- High-definition two-way video. You need to see your patients through crystal-clear, high-definition video, as if they were in the office with you.
Why this is important: It’s critical to have HD video quality — optimized for picture quality, not frame rate — to accurately diagnose your patients, have clear access to non-verbal cues, and benefit from the face-to-face interaction that fosters communication and trust.
Once you have a telehealth solution in place to serve the needs of your patients and practice, now and after the COVID-19 crisis, the most important next step is to let current and prospective patients know you offer telehealth services with the following:
- Web presence. Promote your telehealth services across every online touchpoint and listings website on which your practice and providers appear.
- Email broadcasts. Notify every patient to let them know they can book virtual visits with you, now and in the future.
- Website promotions. Give your telehealth offerings a prominent presence on your website to drive awareness with current and prospective patients.
- Online telehealth scheduling. Your online scheduling tool should include options for patients to choose telehealth visits.
- Telehealth appointment confirmations and reminders. Your appointment confirmations and reminders must indicate where and how your patients can log in to attend their virtual visit, and if they can do so through their desktop, laptop, mobile phone, or other mobile device.
- Reputation management. Managing every step of the patient journey includes getting feedback from your patients about their virtual visit experience. When prospective patients see the positive reviews from current patients, it provides assurance that telehealth will work for them, too.
What to expect for the future of telehealth
After the national emergency is lifted, there will be some adjustments to the legal, regulatory, and insurance requirements — but a notable portion of previously in-person visits will likely be replaced by telehealth care.
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 in-office care. The human connection, and the trust you’ve built with patients, will remain.
All signals point to a continued evolution of technology, regulation, and insurance requirements to make telehealth a greater presence in daily healthcare delivery.
Any marketer will tell you word-of-mouth promotion is the most reliable way to drive sales—as satisfied patients begin to share their experiences with friends and family, it’s not difficult to imagine consumer interest in telehealth services will increase and motivate lawmakers, providers, and insurance administrators to embrace a new healthcare paradigm. – HIT Consultant, April 10, 2020“With hospitals and clinics investing time, resources and money into building out their telemedicine services, they’ll likely want to continue to capitalize on them after the pandemic lapses. Patients who enjoy using telemedicine might also be confused when the option is taken away.” – Modern Healthcare, April 3, 2020
“Just as Amazon redefined the shopping experience and Uber changed our thinking about hailing a ride, telehealth will alter and enhance care delivery. Once patients feel the benefits of convenience and comfort, many will choose it every time they can.” – Luke Kervin, Founder & Co-CEO, PatientPop
“The new measures facilitate radical changes in the way medicine is delivered… this is an unprecedented move that should have happened years ago… Now, the way healthcare is delivered will change significantly; and with it, the business of medicine.” – Tim Peck, emergency physician, director of health, IDEO
A look ahead at emerging technologies
Our nation’s IT infrastructure, consumer wearables, and other technologies are expected to soon further supplement the virtual visit. Telehealth platforms and tools will evolve, as we’re only now seeing a small portion of what’s possible in terms of healthcare delivery and connectivity.
Here are some expected developments for your practice to watch and consider as a complement to, or key component of, telehealth over time:
- Use of chatbots, or virtual screening online. Patients may use an online chatbot to submit symptoms and seek preliminary guidance before scheduling a telehealth visit with you. These can also serve as a triage tool to help inform patients and recommend the appropriate care setting. This can help cut costs when patients are diverted from heading to the emergency room, in favor of another care setting that’s a better fit.
- Advent of the smartphone for health diagnostics. Medical tools typically used in the office may soon be complemented more frequently by the mobile phone, with patients conducting self-examinations and sharing data with you on a regular basis. Smartphone technology could be used to analyze breathing, cough, and heart rate, using the microphone and other phone features, possibly for remote patient monitoring.
- Other remote monitoring smart devices. Similar to the smartphone, other devices like smart thermometers, scales, blood oxygen monitors, blood pressure monitors, exercise monitors, and more sophisticated wearable ‘sensors’ will be able to capture heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and more. Patient data could be uploaded to your practice for reviewing the health of patients who don’t require urgent medical care.
- Use of artificial intelligence to predict or monitor outbreaks, or other community health concerns. Using the heart rates and temperature data for a population, artificial intelligence technology could help predict the onset of the flu or other viruses in specific geographic locations or regions. This information can then be used to manage outbreaks, sufficiently staff your practice, and arm healthcare services with equipment and more providers, to ultimately prevent the spread of disease.
Telehealth is now urgently important and, because of that, the trend toward virtual care has arrived. To be prepared, consider the choices you make now.
Quick fixes may be useful in the interim, but aren’t likely to help your practice after the national emergency has lifted. In fact, they could jeopardize your HIPAA compliance and cause inefficiencies at your practice when more of your patients ask for telehealth options.
You will be best positioned for success with a telehealth care solution that integrates into the way you promote and manage your practice.
Learn more about PatientPop Telehealth by visiting patientpop.com/telehealth.