Telehealth is a new, exciting way for today’s patients to access their providers. However, the novelty of these virtual interactions can be a daunting hurdle to overcome for physicians accustomed to traditional, in-person interactions. To put a telehealth strategy into action, planners and program leaders must first address important questions around delivering virtual care. Here are providers’ top three questions about telehealth, and ways planners can address those questions.
1. “I’m already swamped with my current clinical duties. How can telehealth save time?”
Implementing tailored applications of telehealth can streamline current in-person activities that are time-consuming or require outsized effort from physicians. Instead of describing telehealth as yet another task on providers’ growing to-do lists, reframe the conversation to emphasize how telehealth can help expand capacity.
Do your busiest surgeons spend substantial time with patients during pre-operative visits? Highlight how these visits could be shifted to a virtual platform. Are your specialists in high demand in surrounding rural communities? Point to remote consultations as a way to eliminate lengthy travel times. By identifying and prioritizing the easy telehealth wins, organizations can craft a telehealth strategy that is a sustainable fit for participating physicians.
2. “Is insurance coverage for virtual services comparable to in-person visits? Will I still get reimbursed for these encounters?”
Reimbursement for virtual care is often constrained by Medicare, many state Medicaid programs, and commercial payers. These limitations require telehealth program leaders to develop an incentive structure that supports the inclusion of telehealth.
Consider creating RVU payments for participation, or recognizing early adopters with a publicized innovation award. Program leaders who thoughtfully incentivize virtual care staff will position provider organizations to reap the benefits of anticipated coverage expansion over the next three to five years.
3. “How am I supposed to form a relationship with my patients over video?”
Though the technological aspects of delivering virtual care are supported by IT departments and third-party vendors, the ”webside manner” involved in provider-patient interactions is often left undiscussed. Because telemedicine is a new method for delivering care, few providers have received specific training on establishing a relationship over video. As Dr. Elizabeth Krupinski from the Arizona Telemedicine Program describes to Modern Healthcare, “When you’re conducting a videoconference with a patient, it’s not the same thing as getting up Saturday morning, going on FaceTime and talking to your best buddy. It’s not that simple.”
Conduct mock visits before going live that test more than just the telemedicine technology. Do providers know where to position themselves on camera and how to minimize background distractions? Are there any unexpected issues in interacting with staff present at the remote site to resolve? Leading organizations with mature telehealth programs sometimes spend multiple days addressing these questions to ensure provider comfort with delivering virtual care.
If common challenges around time, money, and patient interactions are resolved, telehealth emerges as a powerful tool for organizations to improve patient loyalty and keep pace with market trends. Do you know what questions your providers have about incorporating telehealth into routine care?