When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many saw telehealth as a temporary means to safely offer uninterrupted care amid lockdowns and staffing shortages. While telehealth still offers those benefits, new opportunities to leverage virtual visits have emerged, offering an effective supplement to in-person visits that has been shown to expand access and help provide the appropriate level of care across patient populations, while also reducing overall costs. Because of the efficacy and cost-efficiency that telehealth presents, many organizations have adopted virtual care as a part of their long-term strategy.
However, starting a new remote care program is not as simple as selecting a platform, and starting a new telehealth program should come with careful consideration to ensure the rollout and daily operation go smoothly—after all, the goal is to create new opportunities to connect with patients, not create an additional barrier to care.
Let’s examine this process and consider seven steps for developing a remote care program in your organization.
Step 1: Know Your Options
The rules for telehealth are rapidly changing at the state, federal, and payer level. Before you jump into remote care, you should familiarize yourself with the terms CMS is using to describe telehealth and check in with your state board and local associations for more information on the rules in your state. Next, put the rest of the puzzle pieces together:
- Review your payors’ policies for coverage and billing preferences.
- Consider what services you can provide remotely and the best format to offer them to patients.
- Consider the business case for services, review rates at the Physician Fee Schedule Look-Up tool.
- Consider what services you can offer, given your current bandwidth and equipment available.
Step 2: Choose a Platform
While there are many technology vendors out there that are offering a wide range of products to meet consumer needs, not all of these are suited to the healthcare environment. For providers and organizations implementing a remote care program, we recommend using a HIPAA-compliant platform, built for the needs of therapy providers. While CMS temporarily waived some HIPAA compliant regulations during the pandemic, the waiver will almost certainly be rescinded in the future, so you’ll want to ensure that your platform will be useful long-term.
Regardless of which telehealth solution you select, it’s important to do your due diligence and request a demo, ask questions, inquire about features, and discuss how you’re going to implement the product into your workflow. Make sure to check-in on compliance concerns and that a business associate agreement (BAA) is available before you purchase. BAA is a HIPAA requirement between a healthcare organization and any vendor handling protected health information (PHI) that many popular platforms like Facetime or the free version of Zoom don’t offer. While temporary waivers exist, a BAA will still be required, so it’s important to consider the future when choosing your platform.
Step 3: Assess Your Technology
The next step is to assess the equipment, software and physical space that you have available for remote care. Do a trial run from the space you will be seeing patients remotely from, and test the connection strength and call reliability. Move through your process as you would normally and consider the best ways to adapt your methods. Think about not only what you can offer, but also consider what you can’t, or feel less comfortable doing remotely, in this process.
Explore the features of your platform that support your practice, like viewing exercise videos together for demonstration or assigning a home exercise program live on the call. From here, you can evaluate upgrades to bandwidth, software, equipment, and other investments that enhance the patient experience.
Step 4: Update Your Policies
Now that you know what you want to offer and have the platform to offer it, how should you implement a program like this? While you know your business best, here are a few considerations:
- Speak with your insurance company—does your plan need modification to include telehealth service considerations (providing care to patients not in your facility, or while your clinicians are not in your facility)?
- How will you (if at all) utilize assistant staff, now that CMS has allowed OTAs and PTAs to furnish telehealth services with supervision?
- Formalize the process for a telehealth encounter and train staff to ensure a consistent experience for patients and standardized documentation practices.
Step 5: Market Your Offering
All these investments won’t do much if patients don’t know about them.Though marketing might seem like a hassle and can easily fall to the bottom of your priority list, it can have a huge impact on getting patients in the (virtual) door. When your telehealth program is ready to move forward, invest the time for these efforts:
- Promote your telehealth offering—your telehealth partner should offer resources to help you do so.
- Update your website with information about remote care, such as what you offer and how patients can contact you virtually.
- Educate patients that are expressing concern about coming in, or that are calling in to cancel in-person clinic visits.
- Engage with your local community on social media.
We’ve received many questions about marketing telehealth and e-visits, because CMS guidance so far has been to provide e-visits that are “patient-initiated.” While CMS does not want providers soliciting e-visit communications, they have also indicated that providers can educate patients at appropriate times (when canceling an in-person visit for example). This free MedBridge webinar with Rick Gawenda and Nancy Beckley digs into this question and more.
Step 6: Focus on the Patient Experience
Focusing on the patient experience will ensure that patients get the most out of their visit. Good lighting on your video call might sound like an aesthetic choice, but it makes a big impact on the quality of the video and how well your patient is going to understand a physical demonstration. Chances are you don’t have a private sound studio to perform the call on, but closing your office door, muting personal phones, and avoiding multitasking ensure that you can connect with your patient in a thoughtful, effective, and professional environment.
Your telehealth platform can also reinforce that connection and support the patient experience. A high-quality HEP program that engages patients will help improve your patients’ outcomes. The experience the patient has in your app is going to determine if they will log in and participate in their program. A good app should reduce your self-discharge rate and improve adherence, not become another barrier to care.
Step 7: Stay Up to Date
There are a lot of resources out there covering the evolving telehealth environment, but it can be difficult to find resources that you can trust to be current and comprehensive. In addition to the resources we provide at MedBridge, we recommend the APTA’s Telehealth page and monitoring CMS’ Newsroom page for the latest news on additional changes affecting telehealth and reimbursements.
To learn more about Telehealth Virtual Visits, Home Exercise Program and our Patient Mobile App, get in touch with a MedBridge product specialist who can help get your new remote care program started today.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“Post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this Post should be construed as legal advice from MedBridge, Inc., or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.