If you are interested in creating a virtual environment to increase productivity and efficiency, then you have come to the right place!
Offering virtual options to your patients will revolutionize your business. A recent survey has shown that audiologists feel the COVID-19 lockdown has brought about some beneficial changes to care of patients with hearing problems. The study, published in the International Journal of Audiology, estimates that between May 29, 2020 and June 15, 2020, just 5% of face to face audiology appointments took place in the UK. Many of the appointments were replaced by ‘telecare’ or ‘remote care’. Most of the telecare appointments did not hinder their ability to provide audiological care using standard procedures.
So, how do you get started? What do you need to do?
This guide will take you through the virtual practice management process – and don’t worry, it is much easier to navigate than you may think!
What is a “Virtual Practice”?
A virtual practice can be easily described as a practice that conducts healthcare visits from anywhere over a smart device (like a computer or smartphone). Telehealth is a collection of virtual communication tools used to deliver health care services. Its primary advantage lies in creating opportunities for various types of provider-patient interaction that do not require in-person visits; so, convenience is key.
Adopting the latest telehealth initiatives can help your practice achieve numerous benefits, like:
- Lowering healthcare costs
- Increasing efficiency and revenue
- Providing your patients better access to healthcare services
This all leads to happier, healthier patients who stay in your practice!
According to the National Business Group on Health, approximately 96 percent of large practices were planning to offer telehealth services, and it is because telehealth has countless benefits. And to top it off, Dr. Adam Licurse described in the Harvard Business Review how a virtual visit pilot program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital yielded a 97% satisfaction rate among patients, with 74% stating “that the interaction actually improved their relationship with their provider.”
Whether you currently have a telehealth service implemented into your practice’s business or are looking at your options, this guide will help you to understand how you run an efficient and effective virtual practice.
1. Select a Virtual Platform That Meets Your Practice’s Needs
When you decide to deploy telehealth, you will want to make sure you do your research. Not all telehealth platforms are created equal and it is very important for you to have an option that includes features that enhance your specific practice as an audiologist. So, for example, what works for a cardiologist or an oncologist may not work for you. You need a platform that has:
- HIPAA-compliant audio and video
- Mobile and desktop compatibility
- Ultra-secure network
- Provider scheduling
- Self-guided set-up and training or white-glove set-up and training
- EHR/OMS integration
And some platforms offer even more, like:
- Automated patient notifications with AI (artificial intelligence)
- Virtual, in-office, and kiosk visit workflows
- Branding for your business
- Patient self-scheduling
- Automated patient intake forms
- Integrated payment processing
- Secure messaging and file sharing
- Integration and product support
2. Book Your Virtual Visits
Once you adopt a virtual platform, it’s so important to embrace it! Going more virtual may seem intimidating but there is support that can help you navigate your new telehealth dashboard. Some additional things you should consider are:
- Who will book the visit? (Your office or the patient through an online portal that has access to your calendar of availability?)
- How are consults going to begin?
- Does the patient need to call and check-in?
- Will you have a virtual waiting room?
- Are you planning on sending out individual consult links?
- Will someone in your office contact the patient ahead of time to set-up the visit for the practitioner on the computer?
You will also want to cover:
During an in-person visit, you usually take notes; well, the same applies here. Charting the patient encounter for video consults is very much the same as an in-person visit. Consider standardizing a method for recording that the consult was conducted over video.
How are important documents such as prescription, lab, and imaging going to be transferred? Does the patient need to have access to a printer? Do they need any intake forms?
Will your patients be paying out of pocket? Will their visits be covered by an insurance provider? If their appointments are covered by insurance, determine the process for submitting claims.
Depending on what you decide, consider discussing payment options with patients prior to their virtual visit.
How will the patients arrange a follow-up visit? You may want to get them to commit during their virtual visit. Consider booking the next appointments at the end of each virtual visit to save time and help keep patients compliant.
3. Communicate Your New Service With Your Patients
Your patients are probably not aware that you are offering telehealth as an option to receive care (unless you have done a formal announcement). Email addresses can be used to communicate virtual care services to patients, and depending on the virtual care tool, can be useful for sending out the virtual visit URL to patients. You will also want to collect (or confirm) the phone numbers you have as mobile numbers; they are useful to communicate with patients in case of any issues with the virtual visit, or to ensure that they are ready for their visit.
You will also want to add a banner or some type of visual announcement to your website so that anyone who visits your website will be aware of your virtual service offerings. Plus, if a potential patient does a search like “audiology telehealth,” Google will pull sites that mention “audiology” and “telehealth.”
4. Create a Regular Time Block Specifically Dedicated to Telehealth
Telehealth may be completely foreign to you and that is ok; anything that is new takes some getting used to.
A way to ease yourself into telehealth is to create a time block during your work week where you will schedule virtual appointments. So, for example, maybe on Wednesdays from 1:00pm to 5:00pm, you have your schedule blocked out just for telehealth. Or you can commit a few days of the week to telehealth – you can easily create a schedule that works best for your needs.
Whether you use telehealth because you need to have more flexibility and a means to support your practice from anywhere or you just want to accommodate patients who can’t come in to your office and are outside of your area, telehealth is a very welcome option to practitioners and patients alike.
5. Delegate Different Responsibilities in the Telehealth System
It is very important to get your staff (or even a single staff member) up to speed on your chosen telehealth software. You may want to designate a few key employees who can become immersed in the process and teach others about how it works. Or you may want to designate specific roles to each employee and assign them features that will be part of their job duties. For example:
- Your receptionist is responsible for reaching out to current patients and scheduling appointments.
- Your office manager is responsible for billing and processing payments.
- Your healthcare tech is responsible for sending applicable information and updating patient records.
6. Addressing Problems
With any new service, sometimes you encounter unexpected “speed-bumps.” Here’s how to navigate some telehealth issues that may arise:
Getting reimbursed for telehealth services can prove problematic for healthcare providers.
To overcome these types of financial obstacles, it helps to have a reimbursement plan that includes using technology to track expenses for reimbursement claims. You can employ a platform that keeps track of these expenses so you can properly document receipts required by payers, while keeping up to date on insurers’ allowable reimbursements.
Lack of Integration
If your Electronic Health Records (EHR) system doesn’t coordinate with the telehealth platform you’re using, you likely will complicate your workflow records.
By using a platform that integrates with your EHR, you can record your established workflow and ensure your patients’ virtual visits are properly documented and updated for future visits.
Lack of Sufficient Patient Data
A lack of platform integration can also interrupt continuity of care. For example, if you have a new patient who received care (in-person or through telehealth) elsewhere, it may be difficult to retrieve their information. The best solution is to inquire where your patient previously received telehealth services, including those created at hospitals and providers with other medical facilities.
If your patients aren’t aware of your telehealth services, then it won’t get used. And if your employees aren’t aware that you are using telehealth, that is another missed opportunity to increase overall efficiency. That’s why it’s important to plan to have some type of launch to get the word out, whether it be through email newsletters, social media, or your blog (if your practice includes one). Word of mouth is also never a bad thing – tell all your patients as you speak to them.
Patients’ Lack of Technical Skills
When patients don’t understand how to use telehealth services, it naturally makes things more difficult and limit accessibility. It’s a good idea to give patients a brief run-down of what to expect when using telehealth (like an email or text message notification, joining the call via video, or having a friend or family member assist with set-up when the appointment is occurring).
It’s equally important to train your staff on using your telehealth equipment, so they also can help patients who require assistance.
With a virtual option, you will be able to increase revenue, serve more patients, and grow your healthcare practice.