You’re ready to take the plunge into telemedicine for your private practice, but where do you begin?
Step 1 -Find a platform that enables secure, HIPAA-compliant video and audio communication with patients via computer, smartphone or other electronic device.
Platforms typically will provide a method for registering patients, a virtual queue/“waiting room” for patients, and a method of recording and archiving the encounter, explains Russell Libby, MD, a board member of The Physicians Foundation and president of the Virginia Pediatric Group, which has been offering telemedicine visits for a little over a year.
Ideally, a telehealth platform will integrate with the practice’s website, so that the process of connecting with a provider is seamless to patients, says Eric Haden, founder and president of the telehealth consulting firm Drexly Health Solutions LLC. “You want to list your providers on the home page and have the patient be able to click on a provider’s name and be entered into the [virtual] waiting room,” Haden explains.
Step 2 – Focus on the basics.
Haden advises practices offering telehealth for the first time to focus on simplicity and flexibility. That means using a standalone platform, one that’s not necessarily part of a fully integrated EHR system but whose only function is enabling remote communication with patients.
At the same time, it’s important that the platform have expansion capabilities so that the practice can add users and functionality in the future. “Some of the products out there only offer solutions for use by individual doctors,” he says. “It’s better to pick an individual solution from a vendor that offers practice-wide capabilities so you can easily integrate with them in the future if you decide to.”
One important caveat for practices using standalone platforms, Haden adds, is that they will need a way to download recordings of patient visits into their EHR so they can be added to the patient’s record.
Step 3 – Evaluate the impact of your staffing and workflow.
Extensive use of telemedicine services most likely will be accompanied by changes in a practice’s workflow and staff responsibilities, and possibly require some physical alterations. “People are going to have to assume different roles depending on each practice’s circumstances,” says MGMA’s Holder. He cites the example of a nurse who, finding she’s spending less time performing hands-on patient care, instead triages requests coming through the practice’s patient portal and deciding which provider they should be routed to.
Once a practice has acquired telemedicine capabilities, the next step is informing patients. The most effective ways to do this, says Holder, is via e-mail and/or the practice’s website. Both methods should explain the service, contain instructions for how to register for it, and include a link for accessing the virtual waiting room.
In addition to telehealth, doctors can use e-mails and text messages for remote communication. In order to be HIPAA-compliant, however, e-mail correspondence must take place through a patient portal, while text messages require the use of a secure server that encrypts the messages. Some telehealth vendors will include these technologies in their platforms for an additional fee, Haden says.
Contact Acumen for a free practice analysis to evaluate how we can help you add telehealth and other services like patient portal into your practice.
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