The American Academy of Family Physicians defines Telemedicine as the practice of using medicine via technology to deliver care at a distance. Simply put, the physician is in one location utilizing a telecommunications infrastructure to deliver care to a patient at a distant site.
While this technology is not new, it is certainly on the uprise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients are seeking out safe avenues to carry on their health routines while keeping a safe distance and physicians are looking for opportunities to grow their practice while minimizing exposure to staff members. Telemedicine bridges the gap by providing remote access to doctors, clinics, and more. The adoption of Telemedicine is likely one to continue long after this pandemic ends. Telemedicine and overall telehealth is a trend that will become a part of our world’s “new normal” and maybe essential in getting through this hard season in health care. Below we will explore some best practices when integrating Telemedicine into your practice.
Best Practices for Telemedicine Implementation
Involve Your Staff
Your staff is the heartbeat of your practice. While you carry the physician level of knowledge and experience, your job would be extremely difficult to do effectively without your team. Your staff will be the one scheduling these appointments, sending out reminders, and responsible for both pre and post appointment procedures. Not only is it important that they are comfortable using your telecommunications infrastructure, but it is also essential that they be on board with the regulations that come with the new territory. Find a way to integrate this into their existing workflow so it is easily adopted by your staff. As with any new process implementation, remember that your vision and overall feeling about it will transfer throughout the rest of your organization. It is important that you truly be on board and be willing to shift into a larger vision for the care you provide as you expand into digital healthcare. Get excited and pull in support from the whole team when doing your telemedicine integration.
Have A Plan
This seems obvious, but do not simply launch a Telemedicine infrastructure without first sitting down and working out all of the details such as: who will perform tasks, how long will these new tasks take, does it flow with existing workflow or cause disruption that will prevent staff from adopting easily, how long should simulations be done prior to starting, do you have a plan for pre and post communications, how do you plan to promote your new telemedicine services, what services will you offer at launch, what are costs of launching and projected costs of saving in the long run, what does training look like, etc. As with building a home, plan layouts will minimize problems along the way and will keep you on task. Map out the implementation from start to finish and make sure all questions are answered prior to roll out.
Start with just a few services
Until you and your staff are fully comfortable with everything involved in a Telemedicine roll out, and until patients in your community have fully adopted the idea, start with just a few simple services that have the potential to draw a lot of patients. Some examples of services that are excellent choices for starting out include:
-Post Operative visits for simple outpatient procedures
Starting small will be beneficial for everyone involved and will help you identify and work through any kinks in your processes.
Healthcare combined with technological communications automatically brings up the concern of patient security. There are several security and privacy risks that must be addressed during all phases of your practices’ roll out along with ongoing security management. Simple things like not getting proper consent from patients could both break the law in your state or even hinder your ability to be paid on services provided. Be cautious of the systems you choose to go with; while penalties for HIPPA noncompliance against providers with telehealth platforms that don’t comply with the privacy regulation are lifted during this pandemic, you have to also think about long term usage. If you intend to keep these new systems in place, or if you simply care about patient privacy the way you should, get actually approved telecommunication systems in place rather than using the zoom, skype and other apps. As stated in the opening of this article, Telemedicine is likely not going anywhere even after this pandemic and will eventually be a patient demand. If you are going to do it, do it right.
HIPPA requires any system of communication at a distance to be monitored and be able to be deleted remotely if necessary. Systems should have auto log-off capabilities and be encrypted to make them unreadable if intercepted over public wifi. When choosing which Telemedicine infrastructure to go with, get all the information you can and do your own research on their security compliance.
Understand your own state’s regulations
Every state regulates Telemedicine differently, so it is important to know and understand as well as educate your team members of what regulations are and have procedures in place for following those guidelines. Specific areas of regulation awareness should include mode of telemedicine regulations, patient locations, prescriptions, diagnosis, informed consent, licensing in the patient’s state, and pre-existing relationship with patients. Until you get everything mapped out, it would be best if you keep this new service method limited to pre-existing patients as these regulations would not apply to a patient who you already have a physician/patient relationship with.
Trial Runs & Marketing
Trial simulations are a must with any technological rollout. You need to ensure the systems work, that everyone understands their role, that it works with existing workflow, etc. Trials give you and your team the opportunity to gain confidence in the new process and to work out any kinks that may arise prior to actual patient involvement. Once you are happy with trial run results, have a plan to let people know you offer these services, particularly existing patients.
Telemedicine is no longer an idea of the future that is slowly gaining interest. It is a here and now and is something you should absolutely be offering during this uncertain time in the healthcare industry. When implementing your Telemedicine infrastructure, get your team involved, have a solid plan of action for all stages of the process, be sure to choose a system that meets security and privacy guidelines, know and communicate your state’s regulations, and last but certainly not least – test it out prior to launching. These best practices for Telemedicine implementation will guide you in the right direction and have you expanding your practice while saving time and costs in no time!