Telehealth technologies aren’t a new thing, necessarily, but they have boomed in popularity in the first few months of 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers have been working to safeguard patients from contracting the virus as much as possible, while still ensuring access to high-quality care. Telemedicine has become the reliable solution for all types of practices in this period of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
For physicians, telemedicine provides the means for doctors to work from home, maintain patient care standards, while lowering the risk of spreading the coronavirus among patients and staff. They can perform virtual e-visits, write prescriptions, discuss symptoms, adjust treatment plans…do all the activities needed to support patients from a distance. Though most physicians’ practices will remain open during the pandemic, telehealth gives doctors a more flexible approach to treating patients.
How Is Telemedicine Used in Healthcare?
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, physicians had little use for telemedicine technologies in providing regular health care and support for patients. But in the last few months, doctors in all specialties have pivoted to virtual practicies in record time. Some offices were seeing patients one day and scheduling virtual visits for the next.
Private practices are transitioning to telehealth more than ever before; a recent poll found that 75% of physicians are currently providing remote care, while most others are planning to add it as an option for their patients.
Why Do We Need Telehealth?
Transitioning to telemedicine technology now can be an important investment in the future of your medical practice. It means preparing your practice for the next outbreak, decreasing costs in the long and short-term, attracting and retaining qualified staff, and ensuring consistent medical care for your patients.
In early 2020, nearly 50% of medical practices have needed to furlough or lay off personnel. And we know that physicians aren’t making more money these days – insurers certainly aren’t paying more – while all other costs increasing with inflation. So, cutting costs is more crucial than ever.
At a time when all physicians are worried about the financial stability of their practice, telemedicine provides a valuable solution. Making the switch to virtual medical practices or, at least adding it to the mix of billable options, can help increase revenue and decrease costs for health care providers. Working remotely enables doctors to reduce overhead expenditures associated with keeping their office open for the full 40 to 80-hour work week.
Telemedicine may also help recover some of the revenue lost due to elective and non-essential treatments being postponed and reduced patient volume during the pandemic. It allows doctors to extend their range – providing consultations and remotely visit patients in a larger geographical range – without the costs connected to leasing or owning multiple clinic locations.
Health care is plagued by low availability of qualified staff and difficulty with employee retention. By providing flexible workplace options, through the use of telemedicine, physicians can address these workforce shortages. Allowing staff to work from home to take care of administrative tasks, billing, prescription refills, referrals, and treatment follow-up is an attractive advantage.
In the past, telehealth was used to reach underserved patients or those in geographically remote locations. Yet, the flexibility of remote services benefits all types of patients.
- No driving necessary; alleviates problems related to transportation, traffic, and parking availability.
- Limits wait times and the amount of time needed to receive the care required.
- It can be used to supplement clinical visits for follow-ups, on-going treatment plans, and for patients with chronic conditions.
- Fits with current expectations created by on-demand services and same-day delivery.
Better Medical Care
By increasing access to medical care and improving communication between practitioners and patients, telemedicine can ensure high-quality treatment. For example, patients are less likely to wait until symptoms are acute, before seeking medical advice. This technology also reduces the burden of travel to reach specialists. It is more convenient for seniors, as well as patients who are homebound, don’t drive, have limited mobility, and those with chronic conditions. And this often translates to better compliance with treatment plans.
Tips for Physicians Moving to a Greater Reliance on Medical Technologies
Is your practice ready to get started with telemedicine? Here is some advice on how to make the move:
- Before adopting telemedicine, get informed about the state and federal laws and regulations in your area relevant to patient privacy, patient-physician relationships, record retention, the use of videoconferencing technology and mobile devices, and requirements for in-person physical exams.
- Get informed about any related payer requirements.
- Ensure you have a HIPAA-compliant electronic medical record (EMR) system as well as an infrastructure for capturing patient information, communicating with them, storing and transmitting PHI.
- Use only encrypted, password-protected applications to ensure data security.
- Choose a HIPAA-compliant platform for videoconferencing and e-visits which is also easy for patients of all ages to access and use.
- Create a patient consent form for telemedicine services. Require informed consent before beginning remote communications.
- Make an emergency plan in case urgent care is required, a data breach is suspected, or the technology fails.
- Set up the hybrid workflow that works for your practice. This means considering what types of tasks can be handled remotely and when they can be conducted off-site to optimize employee’s time, then scheduling clinical tasks around it.
Read this related article: HIPAA-Compliant Telehealth: Avoiding HIPAA Violations During a Pandemic.
How Medical Answering Service Can Support Private Practices & Telemedicine
Medical answering services are designed to support physicians who are working from the office and from home. Doctors gain many valuable advantages by outsourcing call management to an experienced, HIPAA-compliant service provider.
“For physicians that are using telehealth technology, medical answering services act as a liaison between doctors, staff, patients, and multiple communication mediums,” explains Vince McGlone, Director and HIPAA Compliance Officer for PatientCalls. “When a patient calls, we triage them according to the guidelines provided by the doctor relevant to what is considered an emergency or not.”
“For emergencies, we are able to put patients directly in contact with the physician, even outside of regular office hours. But for non-emergencies, we are able to take messages and handle things like scheduling, in order to save the doctor time.”
The answering service works the same for telehealth purposes. “PatientCalls triages calls, prioritizes patients according to their needs, and helps medical practitioners organize their workday. When appropriate, we can connect patients with doctors for live or scheduled e-visits. Our agents can even integrate with their telemedicine application to open the video chat and put them in contact directly.”
What you need to know about working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic: Physicians Home and Office Cybersecurity Guide.
Answering Services to Optimize Physician’s Telehealth Practice
The shift to remote medical services which began with COVID-19 is likely to be transformative for the health care industry in the long run. Embracing virtual visits and extending clinical services can help bolster your practice today, and in the future.
To find out how PatientCalls can support your healthcare practice during this important time, contact us using the “get a quote” form above.