No longer only for rural areas, remote visits are keeping doctors and patients connected during COVID-19
A couple of weeks ago, we may not have been able to imagine kindergartners attending virtual classes online, or hospital workers depending on facemasks hand-sewn by volunteers. But here we are: the “new normal” due to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold at hyper speed.
All of us are being forced to adapt, including medical providers who must embrace new ways of communicating with and treating patients. While telehealth was once limited to rural areas or special cases, almost overnight it’s become “an essential tool in the healthcare armament against this pandemic,” according to HealthLeaders.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded reimbursements to include telehealth services retroactively starting March 6, and some private insurers, such as Humana and CareFirst, are following suit. HIPAA rules regarding telehealth have also been waived during this time of crisis.
We’ve compiled some telehealth tips and best practices below. And if you’re already using digital tools like Rendia, you have a head start.
The rapid rise of telehealth during COVID-19
Many practices that weren’t previously offering telehealth are now doing so to limit travel and exposure to stop the spread of the virus to providers and patients—many of whom may be older and/or part of higher risk populations. Doctors can continue to care for established patients by converting scheduled office visits to telehealth visits, and even in some cases see new patients.
If you’re new to telehealth and concerned about complicated technology, don’t fear, writes Neal Sikka, M.D., in his Medscape article, “How to Start Doing Telemedicine Now (In the COVID-19 Crisis).” Doctors only need a computer or smartphone with a camera and a headset with a microphone to perform basic telemedicine with an app such as Zoom, Doxy.me, Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime.
You also will need access to your EHR, either on another screen on your desktop computer, or on another device if you’re using your smartphone for video, according to Dr. Sikka, who adds, “Many EHR systems, including Allscripts, Cerner, and Epic, provide basic telemedicine functions.”
If you haven’t used video conferencing tools before, now’s the time to familiarize yourself with them. PC Magazine offers 8 Tips for Better Video Conference Calls, including how to get the best connection, lighting, and sound. Test out the technology with your family or colleagues first before trying it with patients.
Seniors are more tech-savvy than ever. Even those who may have had difficulty embracing new technology in the past are now more willing due to coronavirus fears.
If you’re concerned that your older patients won’t be willing or able to use the technology required for telehealth visits, don’t sell them short. More than half of older adults are online and want to connect to their healthcare providers that way, according to statistics from Pew Research.
Seniors may have had “difficulty embracing new technology in the past, but now coronavirus fears have propelled our patients to be more accepting of it,” Stephanie Chow, M.D., an assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine in New York City, told AARP.
Michael Hochman, M.D., a doctor in L.A., said that although some of his patients have initially expressed some frustration with the technology, “once they’ve done it a couple times, they’re firmly on the telemedicine bandwagon.”
Tips for conducting a successful telehealth visit
Keep in mind that this appointment style will be new for some patients. Ensure that your patients feel empowered and secure by making it easy for them to participate in telehealth.
Call patients ahead of time to explain how to join the appointment. Let them know that at a scheduled time, they will click on the link you’ve previously emailed them to connect to the video call via their computer or phone. Reduce technical difficulties and ensure the first few minutes of the appointment are not wasted by sending them instructions with tips.
To send these tips to your patients, download the PDF here.
When the appointment starts, affirm that patients can see and hear you clearly. Have a backup plan—such as calling them on the phone—in case the technology doesn’t work.
How to integrate digital tools into a telehealth visit
The pandemic hasn’t changed the fact that delivering top-quality care to your patients is core to your business, and the digital health tools you’ve already invested in can help you do so. As a Rendia customer, you already have access to mobile health technology that you can continue to use to connect with patients and educate them remotely.
Digital tools like Exam Mode and Outcome Simulator can show patients, even remotely, what their various treatment options look like, helping them visualize outcomes and make informed decisions.
During a telehealth consultation, share your screen and use Exam Mode to show patients anatomical details, disease progression, and treatment options. As you know, visuals will help patients better understand and recall the information you are giving them. You end up spending less time answering basic questions, more time having meaningful discussions, and you help the patient feel a tangible benefit from the visit.
Although elective procedures are on hold, it’s important to keep those patients engaged and informed so that they understand the benefits and value of your recommendations and are ready to schedule their procedure when the time comes. Outcome Simulator is a great tool for these patients, and it works the same way for a virtual visit as it does in person.
You or your surgical counselors can show your cataract patients, and their family members or caregivers, what their vision looks like now compared to how it might look with various lens options. When you visually articulate the benefits of various IOLs, patients can better envision what their experience will be—reducing their uncertainty and enabling them to make an informed decision. Depending upon your current set-up, you may even have a little more time to spend during these online consultations to advise and counsel cataract candidates, leading to their final decisions sooner.
Then reinforce your recommendations by emailing videos in a follow-up message to patients that they can share with their families. As we said in our last post, encourage them to schedule a future appointment now, even if it may need to be rescheduled as the crisis continues to unfold. Patients will feel reassured that their care plan is still on track, if temporarily on hold. And preserving the revenue from a future surgical visit is worth the small cost of a telehealth consult now.
Telehealth is offering a much-needed solution for treating patients now during COVID-19, but also consider the broader benefits it might offer moving forward. Exploring the technology now could yield some innovative approaches to patient care that your practice may even want to continue post-pandemic.
Now’s the time to give your virtual consultations a face-to-face feel. Make telehealth appointments educational, engaging and efficient.
We’re committed to supporting our practices as they navigate the changing landscape of COVID-19. Read more about our tips for staying connected to patients and protecting your practice during this pandemic.