Many physicians have increased their use of telehealth during the COVID-19 crisis. Clinic visits dropped by almost 60% in March and have remained low since then. By April, the Commonwealth Fund cited that about 30% of outpatient visits were now occurring on a virtual platform. It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of telehealth and many physicians are finding it convenient, efficient and preferred by patients.
Related Read: COVID-19 and the Impact on Telehealth Services
Lay the groundwork
Naturally, not all specialties or even conditions are well suited for telehealth visits. While psychology and psychiatry have been easily adaptable to telehealth, other specialty areas that require a hands-on approach, such as orthopedic surgery and podiatry, are clearly not suitable for telehealth services.
Another important consideration is that established patients are more likely than new patients to adapt well to telehealth services. In addition, many states and insurance carriers require that the practitioner’s first visit with a patient be in-person (unless circumstances make this impossible). If you are considering telehealth services for a new patient, please keep these things in mind during a patient’s onboarding process.
Privacy is another issue. While it is obvious that cybersecurity is essential to a working, secure telehealth platform, you should also consider your own physical location when conducting telehealth visits. Check whether anyone in your physical location is within listening distance of conversations between you and patients and be aware of other people who may be present near the patient’s physical location. These patient-provider conversations are confidential, so it is important to tell the patient who, if anyone, on your staff is participating in the telehealth session.
Additionally, make sure your staff discusses technology requirements with the patient and gets an informed consent form signed before the telehealth visit begins. Also, clarify what you will do if there is a technology problem — will you try again or will this require an in-office visit instead?
Lastly, make sure all parties understand an insurers’ current billing policies for telehealth visits and inform patients they have the right to stop or refuse treatment at any time.
Assess and improve
Conducting telehealth visits is different from in-person interactions. By now, most of us have been on numerous video conferencing calls for work or interacting with family members because of the pandemic. On those calls, you are most likely cognizant of your physical background, lighting and attire. Keep those same things in mind for your telehealth visit and make sure that you are looking at the camera, not the view screen when speaking to the patient.
Think outside the box with telehealth, as there may be other ways to assess a patient’s health remotely. Family members, if willing and able, could assist in things such as taking pulse readings or temperatures. Certain types of musculoskeletal injuries can be evaluated using the Ottawa ankle and foot rules.
It is important to be willing to tell a patient that an issue is too difficult to fully evaluate remotely and that it will be necessary for him or her to come to the office. If you have a sense that you are missing something by conducting a telehealth visit, act appropriately and in the patient’s best interest.
Related Read: The New Normal: Learning From the Pandemic and Preparing for the Future
Prepare for the new normal
It is possible that when things go back to whatever the “new normal” is going to be, telehealth reverts to being an “extra service offering” rather than a core component of your medical practice. But it is also likely that if patients — and you — try it and like it, telehealth will become a significant and permanent part of your practice.
For more information about financial and other assistance available to health care providers, please contact Kelly Buchheit at [email protected]. Visit ORBA.com to learn more about our Health Care Group.