Large healthcare organizations are likely to have dedicated IT resources or even a committee to evaluate new technology and business practices. Small practices or solo practitioners are more likely left to the task of deciding which technologies are worth pursuing on their own. When it comes to telemedicine, deciding if and how it can impact your practice, and which solutions to consider can seem like a task too big to take on. We work with small and medium-sized practices every day and have compiled some of the advice they find most helpful.
Set clear and realistic goals.
Before embarking on a search for the perfect platform for video visits, it is essential to understand what you are trying to achieve and how you can realistically integrate video into your practice. Telemedicine has the potential to increase practice efficiency, improve patient satisfaction, expand the possible market, and increase provider flexibility. Think about each of these potential benefits and determine what is most important to you. Decide how you will measure the success of your telemedicine program based on the needs and objectives of your practice.
Be hyper-vigilant about HIPAA.
The standards for HIPAA compliance are exactly the same for video visits as they are for in-person ones. That means that many consumer-grade technologies like Skype and Facetime are not appropriate for telemedicine. Only consider solutions that have the encryption, storage, and business practices necessary for compliance with HIPAA and all other patient security and privacy regulations. Privacy is likely to be a key concern when you introduce video visits to patients, so you and your staff will have to have 100% confidence in the solution you choose to convey that trust to your patients.
Look for drop-dead easy solutions.
As a small practice, the last thing you need to do is become a technical support organization for your telemedicine program. You want to look for telehealth technology that is easy to use for your staff and patients. It should be available on every device, and it should perform well even when bandwidth conditions aren’t optimal. Keep in mind that video visits should save time, not waste it. Ideally, the vendor will provide direct technical support for your patients and internal team.
Insist on reimbursement verification.
In addition to meeting the needs of patients who increasingly see the availability of telemedicine as a deciding factor when picking a provider, video visits should increase your revenue. This is possible because many states now require that remote visits that incorporate both audio and video are paid for by insurers at a rate that is on par with in-office visits. Although these laws aren’t yet uniform or ubiquitous, many insurers recognize the value of telehealth for patient care and reimburse with parity nonetheless. Because insurer policies and state laws aren’t consistent, it is important to look for a telehealth solution that validates patient eligibility before the visit. The most practice-friendly vendors even offer a reimbursement guarantee, ensuring that you will get paid for every visit that they validate, even if the payer does not provide reimbursement.
Consider EHR integration.
I just mentioned that telehealth should save time. That goes for admin staff as well as providers, which means that double data entry into the telemedicine system and the EHR is right out. The best telemedicine systems integrate with a wide variety of EHR systems so that patient information is sent securely and seamlessly between the two platforms.
Put together a marketing plan.
Getting the word out about your telemedicine program doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, but if you don’t consistently let patients know about it, your program is unlikely to gain much traction. We’ve written about this in more detail here, but the key is using as many touch points as possible to remind patients that video visits are available. Staff should be trained to mention it on the phone and during the registration for an in-office visit. Providers should bring it up during each exam. It’s also a good idea to have some signage up and brochures available. If you have a website or a blog, be sure to add a post on the topic. Some telehealth solutions providers will even partner with you to email or text clients the details of your program.
Telemedicine can have a positive impact on practices of any size. There’s no reason to be intimidated by the technology. The best solutions are easy to use, provide reimbursement assurance, and integrate with your existing practice management technology. Once you’ve laid out your objectives, you should be able to find a solution that is exactly right for your particular needs.