From medical emergencies to ordinary exams, telemedicine is shattering healthcare barriers all over the world. In addition to reducing costs and improving outcomes, virtual health can bring advanced care to underserved patients while relieving overworked providers. Yet for some clinicians, telemedicine is still shrouded in mystery – often because they’re not sure how to get started.
Many still think of virtual solutions as limited to symptoms-based video exams. But today’s telemedicine tools can enable evidence-based care and data sharing. Other providers worry that adding technology to a patient visit will be too complicated or time-consuming – but modern solutions are so easy to navigate that both clinicians and patients can immediately connect with each other to focus on the treatment.
Here are 8 steps to starting – and succeeding – with telemedicine.
- Know your options. While simple video calls can handle a range of issues quickly and efficiently, you don’t have to diagnose patients based only on reported symptoms. Integrated and interactive devices can help you deliver an evidence-based consultation and securely transmit medical information such as lab results, x-rays, videos or MRIs for evaluation. You can also monitor chronically ill patients at home by remotely collecting data like blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, weight or oxygen levels.
- Develop a strategy. Before leaping into a third-party Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) app or buying a telehealth solution, get clear about your goals. Will you be compensating for a shortage of infectious disease specialists? Seeing behavioral health patients who lack transportation to appointments? Are you trying to reduce the waiting room times in your emergency department or provide care to rural patients living hours from your hospital?
- Understand reimbursement and licensing basics. Medicare, Medicaid and commercial plans all have different reimbursement policies for telemedicine services. Find out your federal and state regulations and then talk to the healthcare plans you participate in about coverage for certain procedure codes and other components. And remember that beyond direct revenue, your virtual care program can reduce no-show appointments, boost downstream referrals, reduce provider travel and drive other cost savings.
- Talk to your IT team. You’ll want to understand how your telemedicine program will interface with your existing communication networks, discuss how telemedicine encounters will be captured and stored, and decide how the solution will integrate with EHR and PAC systems.
- Evaluate telemedicine solutions. From simple DTC apps to all-in-one platforms, there are many telehealth options on the market – and not all of them will meet your program requirements. Does the solution offer evidence-based care or just video calls? Does the solution offer end-to-end telemedicine, including both live videoconferencing and Store and Forward (asynchronous) capabilities? Will you have to outsource your patient care to third-party providers or is the solution agnostic so you can use your own providers? Finally, is it scalable so it can grow with your needs and work with multiple clinical disciplines?
- Do test runs. Practice sessions can test the functionality of different clinical situations and help staff feel comfortable using the solution. Be also sure to polish your “webside manner” by wearing solid, neutral colors, learning how to make eye contact with the patient in a video visit, and studying best practices for virtual communication.
- Educate your patients. Many patients aren’t even aware that telemedicine exists, so tell them about your program during appointments and through emails and flyers. For elderly or disabled patients, communicate with their caregivers as well – and assure all patients their data will be safe.
- Keeping educating yourself. Telehealth devices and software continue to advance; clinicians are always finding new ways to apply virtual care. Stay connected to the industry by following vendor blogs and sites like Center for Connected Health Policy or by getting active with American Telemedicine Association.
Blazing the Telemedicine Trail
For too long now healthcare leaders and providers have been whipsawed by high costs and burdensome demands. Old strategies haven’t worked; it’s time for new approaches that put modern technology to its most valuable use. With a low barrier to entry and minimal learning curve, telemedicine offers every provider a road to more effective medicine. It’s just a matter of getting started.