The Benefits of Implementing Telehealth in Your Practice
Telehealth has been rapidly growing as a popular option for healthcare providers. Telehealth is the delivery of necessary healthcare services to patients who are separated by distance from their provider – and it’s been crucial in the age of Covid-19. This form of healthcare provides numerous benefits to both patient and provider. This guide to telehealth can help you understand the benefits of this service and how to get started.
Benefits of Telehealth Services
There are benefits to both patient and provider when adding telehealth services to your practice. Traditionally, providing healthcare services can be rather rigid. You adhere to common business hours, remain in one location, and rely on face-to-face communication to work with your patients. Telehealth provides this same atmosphere, but much more as well.
Telehealth offers secure, real-time communication with your patients anytime, anywhere. You are not confined to the regular 9-5, and this is beneficial to both patient and provider. A provider who is available in the evening can be accessible to a larger group of people who work all day, or if weekends work best, that can be a viable option as well. Increased availability provides greater access to potential clients and fewer no-shows for appointments, which can have a positive impact on overall costs.
Offering virtual services can open a new door for several patients. Individuals who live in rural areas can still receive medical advice and services without having to travel a great distance. This is also a better option for many individuals with limited mobile ability or those providing mental health services. Many individuals don’t seek help for mental health issues because they fear the social stigma. Telehealth services provide a way to seek much-needed care while still maintaining privacy. These services can lead to better treatment outcomes.
With telehealth, both patient and provider are not limited to one physical location. A provider can still hold appointments while at home or even while traveling. This is great for patients who may not want to travel to a specific location to meet due to hazards with the weather, traffic, and other unforeseen circumstances. All you need is an internet connection and a camera to have a successful telehealth appointment.
Types of Telehealth
Telehealth allows providers to use several technologies to reach their patients. These include:
- Live video: also known as real-time, allows for face-to-face interaction
- E-visits: non-facetime communication initiated through a portal by the patient
- Store-and-forward: evaluation of recorded videos or images submitted by an established patient
- Audio only: no visual
- Remote patient monitoring: digitally transmitting health information from one secure location to another
- Mobile health (mHealth): a platform that allows the patient to review their personal health data
- Case-based teleconferencing: coordinating and integrating services from multiple providers
How to Provide Telehealth
Getting started in telehealth is rather simple. You’ll want to make sure that you have a clear understanding of regulations in your state, your technology is up-to-date, and that you and your patients are prepared for what to expect. You want your telehealth services to be at the same level of quality as your in-person services.
Telehealth services are required to adhere to specific policies and regulations that vary from state to state. It is important to take the time to search for the specific guidelines in your state, as well as from any other state your patients may be from. You’ll want to have a clear understanding of any needed consent forms or other documents that validate your right to perform virtual medical services.
Telehealth services need to adhere to HIPAA-compliant video conferencing systems. You’ll first want to make sure that you have the correct software to conduct telehealth appointments. You can start by exploring your existing patient portal. Some of these software options come equipped with telehealth services already. If you need to find a telehealth vendor, it is important to do a bit of research first to ensure that it is the best platform for your services. Common questions to consider include:
- How is my information protected?
- Is there a contract required to use the software?
- How will my staff or patients be able to schedule appointments?
- Is there a waiting room feature?
- Do my patients need to download an app?
- Is there end-to-end encryption?
Update Your Technology
It seems like an obvious step, but make sure that your current technology is ready to handle the different elements that telehealth services require. You’ll want to make sure that you have reliable computer systems, high speed internet, and all HIPPA software requirements installed. All of your intended systems should have an internally integrated speaker, microphone, and camera. If you worry about the quality of your speaker or microphone, purchase external for backup. You may also want to invest in good headphones for additional privacy and canceling out any background noises.
Consider Your Office Space
One of the biggest benefits of telehealth is not having to stay in one physical location. However, you still want to be mindful of the locations you choose to use when meeting with patients. You’ll want to have a secure, private, and quiet space. Be mindful of any possible distractions such as noise from outside or visual distractions such as background clutter or movement. Likewise, make sure that there is adequate lighting for your appointments as well. Your face should always be lit and in frame. Be sure to dress professionally and choose clothing that contrasts with your background. It is helpful to avoid patterns as these can be distracting and cause eyestrain for your patients.
Preparing Yourself to Start Offering Telehealth Services
Telehealth best practices start with preparing how you want your telehealth services to operate. You want the process to feel as smooth as if it were still an in-person meeting. The way your service operates should be clear to you, your staff, and your patients. As a leader, you want to ensure that your staff understands how the telehealth process in your office will work. This begins with preparing yourself. There are a number of items to consider when preparing, such as:
- Establishing the workflow and any necessary protocols
- How the scheduling process will work
- How information will be accessed by you, staff, and patients
- Your availability
- The services you will offer
- Providing support to patients with disabilities
- How patients will be greeted- by you directly, or an assistant covering basic questions
- Providing support to patients with limited English proficiencies
- How payments will be managed
Once you feel that you have clear protocols in place and that your software and technology are ready, don’t forget to practice. It can help to send a practice link to a friend who can help you mimic a real patient appointment. This ensures that you become familiar with the process and provides an ability to troubleshoot any issues before meeting with actual patients. Before each appointment, it is helpful to test the audio and visual equipment to ensure you are ready to proceed.
Preparing Your Patients for Telehealth Services
When you are ready, there are numerous routes you can take to get the word out that your office now provides telehealth services. When patients call to schedule, they can be provided with this information. You can also update your website, providing a clear service tab for telehealth. To some patients, this will be a familiar idea, and others may have never heard of it before. You can suggest that your patients talk to their insurance providers concerning coverage. Many coverages have been expanded to include telehealth services.
You can also create a Q&A sheet on telehealth and provide it to your patients in your office and through your website. This lets them know what they can expect from you and the appointment. If any app download is needed, you can break down the steps to properly set this up before appointment time.
Conducting Your First Appointment
As with any appointment, you’ll want to discuss the purpose of the appointment and the expectations of the visit. You’ll receive consent, either written, verbal, or documented form based on your state, and you’re ready to begin. You’ll maintain the same standards as an in-person appointment, obtaining as much data as possible. At the end of the appointment, provide a care plan, and set up any referrals needed.
Understanding Telehealth Billing
Billing and reimbursement requirements vary among different insurances as well as states. It helps to understand both state and federal guidelines concerning telehealth services before implementing services. Telehealth grew immensely due to Covid-19, pushing many providers to expand their coverage options for these services. Many of these expansions are considered temporary and could either be discontinued in time or accepted permanently.
Apogee System Consultants Can Help Your Business Start Telehealth Services
Telehealth offers a means for patients and providers to connect unlike ever before. Not only does this provide additional privacy for those who may be hesitant to seek help publicly, it is also a great option for those living in rural areas or dealing with limited mobility. Be more flexible to patients who simply can’t meet during regular business hours. Let’s discuss how we can help your healthcare business implement elements of telehealth.