New technology innovations have been changing the practice of medicine for many years. Digital medical records, electronic practice management systems, online patient portals, and other technologies allow physicians to operate more efficiently and reduce opportunities for error. Telemedicine is another advance that is capable of making practices more profitable, improving patient outcomes, and giving providers a new level of flexibility.
Conducting some visits remotely via video has excellent potential for practices. Starting a telemedicine practice may seem like a daunting task, but it is really quite easy if you follow some basic guidelines.
Before we talk about how to get started with telemedicine, let’s chat a bit about why telehealth benefits practices.
Telemedicine visits are more efficient than in-person ones. This means that each provider can see more patients during the same amount of time. Because reimbursement for telemedicine is now widespread, practices can enjoy more revenue without the need to add providers, office staff, or office space.
Flexibility in Scheduling
Video visits can happen virtually anywhere, at any time. This gives practices the option to offer visits after hours or on weekends without requiring the physical office to be staffed.
Better Patient Outcomes
People are more likely to comply with recommendations for follow-up appointments if they don’t have to come into the office. Telemedicine visits are also an effective way to increase patient engagement in medication management, chronic condition monitoring, and lifestyle coaching. Surveys show that patients are as satisfied, or even more satisfied with video visits.
Fewer No-Shows and Last-Minute Cancellations
No-shows and cancellations waste time and drain profits from medical practices. Setting up a telemedicine practice helps mitigate this problem by eliminating many of the factors that cause people to miss their appointments. The need to be at work, transportation issues, and lack of access to childcare don’t become roadblocks when telemedicine is used. In fact, if a patient calls to say they can’t make it into the office at the last minute, the visit can simply be switched to video.
Improved Work/Life Balance for Providers
Starting a telemedicine practice gives providers the option to work from home sometimes, or to see patients outside of traditional office hours. Many providers report that implementing a telemedicine practice helps them maintain a healthier work/life balance. For example, providers can connect with patients if needed even if they are away on vacation or traveling for business.
Protection from Competition
These days patients have many options besides a traditional medical office for care. Retail walk-in clinics and stand-alone urgent care centers are convenient ways for people to get on-demand care. At the same time, the number of options for online video visits continues to grow. Adding telehealth to a traditional practice is one way to protect against this type of competition.
Healthcare providers love telemedicine, and the office staff does too. Telemedicine makes everyone more efficient by reducing the administrative tasks associated with an in-office visit. The waiting room is less crowded, and patients are happier. Video visits also lessen the potential for exposure to illness, and of course, all employees benefit from improved practice profitability.
Reimbursement for More Types of Visits
Another way that telehealth helps revenue growth is by turning something that providers often do for free today into paid activities. Most payers do not reimburse for telephone only follow-up visits, like reviewing test results or checking on the progress of a case. However, by using telemedicine to add a video component, these visits may become reimbursable.
If those are the kinds of practice improvements you are after, then it is time to think seriously about setting up your telemedicine practice. Here are the keys to success.
Select the Right Technology Partner
One of the most important decisions you will make when setting up a telemedicine practice is the technology that will power your remote visits. There are lots of options on the market, so it is critical to make a wise decision. To get started with telemedicine, look for a solution that meets the following guidelines:
Automated Reimbursement Verification
Telemedicine regulations vary by state, and insurance company payment policies also vary. The good news is that telemedicine is often reimbursed at the same rate as in-person visits. To be sure that you are paid for every video visit, find telemedicine technology that has built-in reimbursement verification. You’ll be sure that you’ll receive payment before the video visit is confirmed.
Integration with your EHR or Practice Management System
You don’t want to have staff members duplicating information in multiple systems, so be sure that the telemedicine system you consider will integrate with your EHR or practice management solution. You should be able to seamlessly schedule appointments and send patient information between the systems securely.
Patient and Provider Support
Of course, you will look for telemedicine software that is easy to use, but there will be questions from time to time. Make sure that your technology partner will support your patients and your staff.
Consider solutions that handles scheduling in a way that works for your practice. Most providers prefer a solution that allows patients to request a video visit online, but gives actual control of the schedule to office staff.
You want the process of setting up a telemedicine visit to be seamless for the patient and to support your brand. You can find a telemedicine system that lets you customize the look of the application to match your brand identity and include your logo.
The Ability to Work with Low Bandwidth and Slow Internet Connections
It is a best practice to use high-speed internet connections, but often medical office buildings have less than optimal networks. Be sure to find a solution that will work well in your environment.
HIPAA Compliance and Patient Privacy
The same requirements for patient privacy and information security that apply for in-person visits apply to visits conducted over video. When you start a telemedicine practice, you have the same responsibility to protect patient information. The storage of electronic files, video, and images must be approached with the same caution as you would take with physical documents.
Consumer-oriented services, like Skype and Facetime, do not support HIPAA compliant video conferencing because they are not encrypted. Therefore, they should never be used for any purpose that requires the use of Protected Health Information. Instead, look for telemedicine technology that has been designed to protect patient information.
Follow These Best Practices
Define the Goals for Your Telemedicine Program
It is smart to sit down and document the goals for your telemedicine program from the very beginning. Set clear goals with objective measurements. You include considerations like how you want your telehealth program to affect revenue, patient satisfaction, wait times, no-shows and cancellations, staff efficiency, retention, new patient acquisition, and any other metrics that are important for your practice.
Engage your Staff
Starting a telemedicine practice will have an impact on many functions within the practice, so it wise to get the right people involved in the roll-out of your program. We recommend putting together a task-force that includes providers who will be using telemedicine, staff members who will be scheduling appointments, and technical resources. When people get involved early and have the opportunity to help define the program, they become more invested in its success.
Study Reimbursement Rules and Regulations in Your State
State laws and payer policies about reimbursements for video visits vary widely. Most are becoming embracing telehealth because it is such an important tool for meeting the healthcare needs of the public. In fact, 31 states have what are known as “parity” laws, requiring reimbursement for telemedicine. But there is not a consistent national approach, so it is important to make yourself familiar with the regulations of your state.
Decide How Telemedicine Will Work Best for You
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for leveraging telemedicine. You can craft an approach that meets the unique needs of your practice. Some providers block off specific times during the week for remote visits, while others decide to make video visits available during times that the office is traditionally closed. We mentioned the idea of conducting the follow-up phone calls that you already do using telemedicine to replace un-reimbursable telephone calls.
Work Hard to Make Patients Aware of the Option
It is critical to make sure that patients are aware that telehealth visits are an option for them. We recommend posting signs in the office, sending emails, and making a discussion about video visits part of every in-office encounter. Even if patients don’t immediately schedule an appointment, knowing that telemedicine is an option may help keep them loyal to the practice despite increasing competition from retail health clinics and online-only providers. Some telemedicine technology providers even help market the service to patients on your behalf.
Ask for Feedback
When you first get started with telemedicine, it will be new to your staff and patients, so it is a great idea to gather their feedback. Find the best way for you to get the insight of both groups and integrate their best ideas into your telehealth program.
Check-In with Your Goals
Once you have launched your telemedicine practice, be sure to set up a periodic schedule for checking in with your goals. You may need to make tweaks to how you have implemented the approach. This is normal and to be expected. It is also smart to be sure to recognize and reward your team when you meet vital goals or milestones.
Starting a telemedicine practice is a big step, but it doesn’t have to be a frightening one. If you find an excellent technology partner and stick to these best practices, you’ll be reaping the benefits in no time.
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