Top 10 Telehealth Tips for Healthcare
With the advent of new technologies (particularly those enabling real-time video communication), telehealth is becoming an increasingly common means of providing healthcare services.
Telehealth has some distinct advantages, the most obvious of which is convenience. Patients have quicker access to healthcare when they need it, and practices can cut the costs associated with meeting, managing, and treating clients at their physical locations. Telehealth is also a means of reaching traditionally underserved populations, such as those in rural areas.
Additionally, telehealth allows doctors to provide virtual care to those with common medical issues that can be treated at home, thereby granting more in-office time to patients who have more serious issues that require immediate attention. In fact, consulting firm Advisory Board reported in 2015 that around 20 percent of all urgent primary care visits could be easily resolved via virtual care.
Telehealth is growing, too. There’s an increasing number of applications and technologies in the marketplace aimed at connecting providers and patients remotely. Microsoft, for instance, recently opened the Skype online communications platform to developers looking to create apps in the telemedicine space. It’s a good example of the growing telehealth ecosystem.
The combination of today’s internet speeds (which have improved streaming capacity), smartphone cameras’ capabilities, and applications have made it possible for virtual video examinations to become commonplace.
Making Telehealth Work for Your Practice
The good news is that it’s becoming easier than ever to integrate telehealth into practices. For practices looking to implement a telehealth service soon, here are the most important considerations to keep in mind:
1. Know what hardware you need. If you’ll be monitoring patients remotely, you’ll need to invest in hardware for the patient site that can record and digitally transmit data, such as digital stethoscopes and thermometers. As long as the devices are compatible with your practice’s software, you’ll be able to take advantage of their data-sharing capabilities.
2. Know what software you need, too. Aside from these remote monitoring needs, many practices can begin to take advantage of telehealth merely by adding software solutions that allow for secure videoconferencing. Patients will be able to access appointments on desktop or mobile devices.
3. Confirm that your bandwidth is enough. You also need to keep in mind your broadband capabilities. No matter what new hardware and software you invest in, make sure you have sufficient bandwidth for executing these new practices. Software vendors will be able to tell you what’s needed, and your ISP can verify whether you already have that capacity.
4. Prioritize security. Ensuring data security is also critical. Whatever tools you need, one of the most important parts of choosing telehealth solutions is selecting HIPAA-compliant technologies. Along with that, you’ll want to enter into a business associate agreement if you use a new vendor to provide telehealth capabilities.
5. Get an electronic health records system that makes telehealth easier. This will allow for the integration and implementation of features such as setting appointments, accessing patient records, and submitting patient forms and paperwork through the patient portal.
6. Streamline vendor options. If possible, stick to as few software/hardware vendors as you can. It can make management and integrations easier and less time-consuming.
7. Know your legal limits. Outside of the technical considerations, a practice must be aware of its state’s regulations regarding practices such as prescribing medication. Your state might also require an in-person visit before patients can be treated virtually.
8. Start out small. There’s no getting around the fact that telehealth is an investment. If you’re struggling for funding or are just unsure what to implement, remember that you don’t have to have a full-blown telehealth service involving every provider at your practice right away. You can take smaller steps to begin with.
9. Consider a test program. Another similar option is to create a pilot program for your telehealth procedures. This can accomplish a couple of things, the first being generating buy-in from any major stakeholders who might be on the fence about making this investment. A pilot program can also let your practice test how well patients like receiving remote care and how effective it is.
10. Prioritize patient feedback. One of telehealth’s main goals is to make receiving care easier for patients. If it’s not working for them, something needs to change. Ask your patients for feedback often — especially in the early stages. This can help you fine-tune your telehealth service so it’s benefitting patients and the practice alike.
Telehealth will likely be an increasingly accepted and mainstream way of delivering healthcare in the coming years. A 2016 survey concluded that 63 percent of healthcare providers were already using telehealth in some way. By taking a few essential steps to implement a telehealth service securely, both your practice and your patients can experience the benefits associated with this new healthcare solution.