Guide to Implementing a Sustainable Telehealth Program in Your Clinic

Since March 2020, there has been an urgent need to respond to the new realities of the Covid-19 pandemic and accelerate the implementation of remote healthcare. Even patients with limited access to medical facilities need medical help, but after the pandemic began many were afraid of in-person appointments because of the risk of infection. 

Telemedicine was a game-changer that allowed physicians to address non-urgent health issues with fewer risks to patients. In addition, telehealth programs encouraged the development of more innovative medical care delivery and patient treatment approaches. 

This guide will walk you through the steps to plan and effectively integrate a telehealth program into your practice. By implementing telehealth solutions, you can provide a higher quality of care and improve patient satisfaction while growing your healthcare business.

Benefits of implementing a telehealth program

Telehealth can ensure better quality and more accessible healthcare. Physicians can now use remote monitoring to support and take care of patients across state borders, reduce patient wait and diagnosis times, and boost the quality of patient care. Let’s delve into telehealth’s main advantages.

#1 Geography is no longer a barrier

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, telehealth solutions have provided many undeniable benefits by breaking down geographical barriers. Telehealth allowed physicians not only to maintain continuity of care for existing patients but also to take on new patients. Telehealth can often substitute for in-person visits and offer more convenient care methods, especially for older adults, people living in rural or urban areas with restricted access to care, and people with a disability or diseases like AIDS.

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#2 Higher patient satisfaction

When preparing for a doctor's appointment, patients may encounter a variety of personal constraints such as travel expenses, long travel times to a medical facility, needing to take time off work, and high healthcare costs. Telehealth helps reduce patient burdens by extending the reach, improving the effectiveness, and increasing the flexibility of medical care delivery.

Additionally, patients and physicians with certain medical conditions may have an increased risk of infection as a result of an in-person consultation. Telehealth services are a promising way for patients to receive medical assistance while staying safe at home. Since healthcare professionals can access medical records online, they can diagnose a good deal of patients via video call from the comfort of their home. Telehealth is also more accessible to patients without adequate health insurance or those who require frequent care and regular physician visits.

Many healthcare providers have adopted telemedicine software to provide remote care, offering their patients virtual scheduling and booking options. For example, patients can easily view physicians' calendars via a booking page or a widget and pick a slot that suits their schedule. 

Research shows that patients with access to telehealth services are more satisfied with the healthcare quality in their community. This improvement could be due to increased access to specialists they would otherwise not have.

#3 Reduced healthcare costs for patients and physicians

Financial no-show losses are a growing concern since patients often skip in-person appointments. Increased no-shows can negatively affect a provider’s income.

Telehealth solutions help reduce no-show rates. Telemedicine software allows healthcare providers to send automated appointment notifications with all necessary details. As a result, patients rarely miss appointments or annual visits, and doctors can confirm their schedule for the day without wasting time reminding patients of upcoming visits.

Advanced telemedicine software also allows physicians to set a refund policy for remote sessions. For example, if a patient cancels their visit within 24 hours of the scheduled appointment (or misses an appointment), they might not get a refund. Likewise, telehealth technology increases scheduling clarity and price transparency for patients. If their scheduled online appointment does not occur due to unforeseen circumstances (such as technical issues), patients might be able to request a full refund. 

Telehealth may be a valuable addition to an efficient medical practice to cut down general expenses for things such as front desk support, medical office spaces, and equipment. 

#4 Patient privacy protection

While telehealth flexibility is an added bonus, healthcare providers should focus on the security of health-related patient data within their telehealth platforms. While patients trust healthcare providers with their sensitive data, providers rely on telehealth technology to store and keep patient information private and secure. 

Healthcare practitioners should choose a comprehensive telehealth solution to ensure the organization complies with HIPAA requirements.

#5 Cooperation between various medical fields 

Some clinics might provide a specific type of care, while other medical facilities may offer a broader range of healthcare services. Through telehealth, healthcare providers can strengthen the connection between patient-centered care and diagnostic services to enhance patient outcomes. As a result, physicians can increase the quality and improve the effects of patient treatment. For instance, various medical specialists engaged in a telehealth session together may be able to more accurately detect patient conditions. 

#6 Increased patient flow

Patients can book appointments by themselves from any device, at any time, and from anywhere. Because booking is convenient and patients feel in control of their own time, and healthcare providers may have an increased flow of patients.

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Apart from attracting new patients and increasing medical care accessibility, telehealth solutions increase the practice's revenue and improve reimbursement processes. In addition, thanks to telehealth platforms’ automated notifications, if patients cancel their appointments, other patients, especially those with urgent needs, can immediately book an appointment. As a result, physicians do not lose billable time, and patients get support on time.

Physicians waste precious time when a patient misses an appointment. And usually, they get no reimbursement. Using telemedicine software, physicians can protect themselves from no-shows and set up refund rules for patients who cancel their appointments. It works for patients as well. If a doctor cancels a meeting, the patient will get their money back. 

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7 Steps to starting a sustainable telehealth program

The demand for high-quality and secure telehealth programs is rising. Hence, sustainably integrating these programs into medical practices is a top priority. The following steps will help you implement telehealth programs with long-term success. 

Step 1. Build a dedicated team and define the scope of work 

Successful telehealth infrastructure requires multiple experts focused on its implementation. The team must be dedicated, and every member should know what their roles and responsibilities are. Team members may come from diverse fields: physicians, medical support staff (nurses, clinical assistants), administrative staff to cover day-to-day operational issues, and technical specialists to take control over proper technology functioning. The team size can be adjusted for the organization's budget and goals.

Step 2. Train your staff

Quality staff training aims to eliminate telehealth adoption issues. Telehealth education and training should be relevant to the business’s specific goals and consist of theoretical and practical modules. Check out some tips on how to effectively educate your telehealth team: 

  • Request training support from your telehealth vendor

As soon as you choose your telehealth technology provider, you can ask them for educational materials, medical staff training, live sessions, and other support resources. Most telehealth vendors offer it as part of their services free of charge.

  • Select a training method 

Choose the training method that suits your team and improves employee engagement. That might be a webinar, a demo session, a practical task like testing equipment or software, or a combination of methods.

  • Run user testing sessions 

Testing sessions are an excellent way for employees to acquire practical skills and go through the whole testing process step by step. They also help your team identify potential challenges and prepare for them in advance.

  • Prepare a FAQ sheet

Write out answers to the questions your team may have and provide further information if necessary.

  • Assess the knowledge gained during training

Confirm your team’s readiness for the telehealth program launch. You can do this by giving your team tests or practical scenarios. 

Step 3. Understand medical and legal telehealth visit policies 

Before starting a telehealth program, healthcare practitioners need to acquire full licensing. These licensing policies, the intensity of their measures, and the level of regulation differ state by state and country by country. However, almost every state has adjusted its licensure procedures to include practicing telehealth in and out of state.

On December 3, 2020, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued the Fourth Amendment to the PREP Act to prevent state and local governments from implementing prohibitory policies, which keep “qualified persons” from administering countermeasures recommended by a PREP Act declaration. This amendment allows physicians to practice telemedicine in cases of extraordinary circumstances or emergencies. It grants physicians liability protection, which became especially necessary after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This amendment facilitated coronavirus treatment and preempts state law that prohibits or limits a provider ordering or administering a Covered Countermeasure through telehealth, so long as the provider is licensed.

While flexible policies prompted by Covid-19 might waive licensure requirements to some extent, they will not necessarily be permanent. If you want to make telehealth part of your medical practice, you must acquire medical licensure. You can get more updates on every state’s latest requirements here.

Step 4. Check your insurance and reimbursement requirements

Let your malpractice insurer advise you on what types of telemedicine coverage your policies include. Moreover, if you want to practice telemedicine across state borders, research whether your coverage applies in other states.

While implementing your telehealth program, consider possible cybersecurity threats and how to address them to avoid breaches of medical and patient information. According to Herjavec Group and Cybersecurity Ventures’s research, ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations quadrupled between 2017 and 2020. Additionally, more than 93% of healthcare organizations had some kind of data breach over the past few years. Therefore, healthcare professionals should rely on technology that is HIPAA-compliant to protect their remote medical practice. 

Furthermore, top-notch telemedicine technology allows healthcare providers to set up a refund policy and get paid if patients unexpectedly cancel appointments. Each state may specify the reimbursement amount. Some states leave this matter to the insurer.

Step 5. Decide on the right technology partner

Choosing a telemedicine technology vendor is a crucial step to implementing your remote healthcare practice. However, because there are many telehealth providers, selecting, selecting the right solution may be difficult. We've compiled some tips to help you choose the right vendor for you.

Your telemedicine platform should offer:

  • Excellent user experience. Telehealth technology should be easy to install and use, have intuitive design and navigation, and be independent of third-party software. 
  • Functionality to meet your needs. Examples include online scheduling, booking, automated reminders, chat, video conferencing, and billing, as well as team and patient management. 
  • High security standards. The telemedicine vendor you choose must comply with HIPAA security requirements.
  • 24/7 customer support. Telehealth software users should get continuous support and answers to their questions. 

Step 6. Create your patient’s digital experience

Telehealth has come a long way from the days of lockdown and has evolved into a convenient healthcare alternative valued and demanded by patients across the globe. 

While starting a telehealth program, a project team should focus on providing a smooth and integrated online patient experience, from booking the first appointment to providing feedback. Telehealth software helps make the entire digital process seamless and transparent. If you use a platform like ExpertBox, the patient experience cycle may look something like this:

  • Patient books an appointment with a healthcare provider via a booking page or widget
  • Patient provides informed consent
  • Patient pays for the visit via a convenient online payment method
  • Patient fills in required data through a digital intake form
  • Patient virtually meets with a provider
  • Provider and patient use chat to make communication more efficient 
  • Patient provides feedback to improve the process

Step 7. Set up your workflow

How you redesign your telehealth workflow depends on the size of your organization and how extensively your healthcare practitioners will be using telehealth services. Having a dedicated and well-trained team allows all aspects of remote healthcare administrative and technical support to run smoothly, especially when adopting new technology. 

4 Helpful tips for effective telehealth implementation

Before starting your telehealth practice, make sure your environment, as well as your technology, are properly set up. Consider these useful recommendations to effectively implement a telehealth program in your clinic. 

  • Prepare a virtual space for your telehealth practice. This should be a private environment. You will also need a high-resolution webcam and a quality headset or microphone.
  • Switch off all device notifications and ensure that no background noise interrupts your telehealth sessions.
  • Keep your telehealth visit schedule organized and aligned with your daily workload. 
  • Use essential documentation (for example, service agreement, telehealth consent form, notice of privacy practice, etc.). These can be the same documents you use for in-person visits. However, you can also note that the service was conducted remotely and add any additional vital details (the reason for the telehealth session, its type, or location). You can also confirm that the patient provided their informed consent for telehealth.

To sum up

Today's patient is accustomed to around-the-clock customer service and using smart technologies. They want to be heard and receive quality medical care at the most convenient time and place. Telehealth programs can exceed patient expectations by providing services beyond in-person office visits and reducing extensive wait times.

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FAQ
  • Physicians can use remote monitoring to support and take care of patients across state borders, reduce patient wait and diagnosis times, and boost the quality of patient care. Some key telehealth program benefits include:

    • Reduced travel time
    • Enhanced patient adherence
    • Reduced infection exposure risk
    • Lower no-show rates
    • Cooperation between medical disciplines
    • No geographical barriers
    • Improved treatment outcomes
    • Reduced costs
  • The following steps will help you implement a telehealth program with long-term success:

    1. Build a dedicated team and define the scope of work 
    2. Train your staff 
    3. Understand medical and legal telehealth policies 
    4. Check your insurance and reimbursement requirements 
    5. Decide on the right technology partner
    6. Create your digital patient journey
    7. Set up your workflow
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