For many healthcare providers, normal services have come to an abrupt halt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. As hospitals struggle with the influx of COVID-19 patients, most individuals are prevented from seeing their doctors and other healthcare professionals in person in order to prevent the spread of infection. While some appointments, like an annual checkup, can be postponed to a later date, others are more pressing.
If possible, it’s important to continue offering services to your patients during this time. One of the best ways to do this is through telehealth, also known as telemedicine. By using technology, you can deliver virtual medical, health, and education services without putting yourself or your patients at risk of infection.
While the idea of telehealth is not new, many healthcare professionals don’t have personal experience with it yet. Furthermore, your offices may not be set up to provide this service. So, how can you put a telehealth marketing plan into effect on such short notice in response to this pandemic? The following guide will provide some key tips for implementing telehealth/telemedicine as quickly and as effectively as possible.
Determine Which Services You’re Able to Offer
You may not be able to provide all of your healthcare services remotely. Depending on the nature of the appointments, many physical examinations and treatments just can’t be replicated through technological means. However, other services can be amended in a way that is still beneficial to patients when provided remotely.
The following are examples of some of the many healthcare services that can often be conducted via telehealth:
- Virtual check-ins
- Remote diagnosis/consultations
- Medical prescriptions
- Talk therapy
- Nutritionist services
In addition to figuring out which services you can provide from a logistical standpoint, you should also check with your malpractice insurance to make sure you’re covered for care provided via telehealth.
Figure Out Your Technology Setup
Next, it’s time to set up the proper resources for providing these healthcare services. The way you conduct your telehealth services will determine what technology you need. The main methods of telehealth are:
- Visual/audio telehealth visits: This will require a video conferencing service of some type so that you and the patient can see each other during the appointment.
- Telephone evaluation and management: In some cases, you can conduct telehealth services via telephone, which is relatively easy for most practices to implement immediately.
- Remote patient monitoring: This requires the use of a digital device that collects and sends data to a healthcare provider for evaluation. Some of the metrics that can be monitored in this way include blood glucose level or heart ECGs.
The American Medical Association has a helpful guide for determining the proper CPT codes for billing for various telehealth services.
Don’t forget to consider patient privacy when conducting appointments remotely. Ideally, you should use telehealth software that meets HIPAA standards and encrypts all patient data. You may be able to secure this through your existing EHR vendor. You can also try reaching out to your state medical association to get vendor recommendations. Keep in mind, however, that some of the regulations in this area have been relaxed during the pandemic in order to meet patient needs, so you may be able to temporarily use services that do not meet all the normal privacy requirements.
Research Insurance Coverage for Telehealth Services
The final piece of the puzzle is insurance coverage. One of the barriers to telehealth access is whether insurance providers will cover these services for various healthcare needs. However, in the wake of the coronavirus, some insurers are amending their policies in order to accommodate patients. In addition, Medicare has temporarily expanded its coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 outbreak.
In order to determine how this will affect your healthcare services, first look up your state in this resource from the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP). A number of states have already taken steps to increase access to telehealth services as a response to the pandemic. In addition, you can directly contact some of the most common insurance providers used by your patients to find out what type of coverage is offered for these services.
Reach Out to Patients
The last step is to email your patients to let them know you can offer telehealth services to meet their needs. In your email, be sure to include:
- Which services can be provided remotely.
- How telehealth appointments will work.
- Details about technology requirements to participate.
- Insurance coverage guidance.
This is a confusing and overwhelming time for your patients, so the more information you can provide, the better. In addition to laying out the details, be sure to add a reassuring message to let patients know that you are available to help however you can while prioritizing their safety and health.