Over the past several years, telehealth has gone from a novel concept to a preferred option for many patients. But it still hovered on the fringes of society. The physical separation of caregiver and patient seemed to be too great a jump for a generation that celebrated the importance of “bedside manner.”
Would doctors be able to make accurate diagnoses based solely on a phone call or video chat? Would the transmission of the telehealth visit be safe and secure? And would telehealth move us closer to the strange future envisioned in films like Minority Report?
Telehealth Takes Off
It appears the answers to these questions are yes, no, and probably not. The year 2020 has seen a significant shift in the public’s view of telehealth. As a result, the technology has gone mainstream.
“The adoption of telemedicine shifted into hyper-drive over the past month, with virtual healthcare interactions on pace to top 1 billion by year’s end, according to analysts at Forrester Research,” explains a telehealth report from CNBC. “That would represent a massive expansion from telemedicine usage before the coronavirus pandemic.”
One of the key reasons that private practices have gotten more involved with telehealth is that it’s now more lucrative. Not only is telehealth one of the purest forms of social distancing during a pandemic, but it’s now reimbursed through Medicaid and Medicare at the same rates as an office visit. Add to the equation the relaxing of regulations for factors such as prescriptions, malpractice, and mobile devices, and it’s difficult to justify not using the technology.
Beyond the health benefits and great compensation, telehealth offers a wide array of benefits to private practices:
- Builds revenue: Your practice can simultaneously lower overhead costs and the number of no-shows by incorporating telehealth. You’ll be able to attract patients who prefer the technology to in-office visits and add hours of availability that wouldn’t be possible in the office.
- Enhances remote monitoring: You’ll see better patient engagement as you connect with them in their homes and lay out treatment plans. Better yet, crucial metrics from those patients are then transferred back to you faster.
- Improves flexibility: When you’re unleashed from the confines of a traditional office schedule, your work-life balance gets a major boost from telehealth. You can see patients whenever you want and from most places you happen to be.
- Reaches disadvantaged patients: When boundaries are eliminated by telehealth, you’ll be able to reach rural and low-income patients who would’ve struggled to reach your office for an appointment.
- Fosters loyalty: Patients nationwide tend to give telehealth high marks. If you’re looking for ways to improve customer satisfaction, start by mitigating common pain points such as long periods spent in the waiting room and unhelpful desk staff.
Getting On Board With Telehealth
If you haven’t already incorporated telehealth offerings into your practice, there’s no time like the present. Start by researching your state’s regulations to ensure you can move forward confidently. After confirming these details, you’re ready to take the necessary steps to get up and running.
- Develop a plan: How does your practice intend to use telehealth? Think about whether you want to make the service a key component of the care you provide, or merely a supplement. Also, will you allow telehealth for initial consultations or only for follow-ups?
As you answer these and other related questions, draft a plan that will guide you through the process. This plan may require some effort up front, but the clarity it provides will likely save you time and resources in the long run.
- Figure out the software: You need to decide up front how you’ll communicate during virtual consultations. Select a technology that is user-friendly and relevant to your patients.
You’ll also need to assemble the equipment needed to support your chosen technology. Don’t worry—you won’t need a high-powered computer equipped with expensive add-ons. Just get a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Make sure all updates have been made to boost the performance and security, and then verify that your internet connection is reliable.
- Get a handle on billing: As mentioned earlier, telehealth has recently seen major billing changes. Take the time to research the billing process and relevant rates so you can make this service a rewarding pursuit for your practice.
- Choose your locations: While it’s true that you could technically conduct a consultation from just about anywhere with an internet connection, you’ll want to designate certain places to work from.
Your priority should be finding a room or office that offers complete privacy. Other considerations for your location include potential distractions. You should make sure there won’t be background noises or visible clutter that might negatively impact the patient’s experience. Lighting is also important so the patient can clearly see your face.
- Think about your appearance: Dressing the part is still important even if you’re consulting with patients from your beach house or cabin. Make sure you look professional and prepared in all telehealth visits. Don’t allow yourself to lose focus on the patient, as eye contact is critical.
- Conduct a trial: Before seeing your first virtual patient, enlist a friend or relative to hold a quick practice session. This is your chance to identify potential issues with your setup.
When you feel ready to bring patients into the mix, don’t open the floodgates all at once. Start with a handful of trusted patients who will be forgiving of any glitches that might arise.
- Spread the word: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? A similar question could be asked about telehealth. If a practice offers telehealth consultations and no patients participate, does it still make a sound?
Don’t rely solely on word-of-mouth to reach potential patients. You need to promote your new offering through all your standard marketing channels. Pay extra attention to your social networks and other digital advertising platforms, as the users you’ll connect with there are probably more likely to use telehealth than someone who reads about it in their daily newspaper.
By introducing telehealth into your practice, you’ll set the stage for future growth. This technology isn’t going anywhere. Instead, it will continue to spread throughout the world. And your practice will be right there, riding the wave.