Remote care is playing an important role in the COVID-19 response. But for many providers telehealth is new technology, and new technology requires new workflows. As you settle in to new office routines during the COVID-19 pandemic, make sure to set aside some conscious time to improve your telehealth workflow.
Planning ahead for telehealth
If your medical practice has continued operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve already had to change how you set up and manage appointments. But like many practices, your initial response was probably hasty and reactive. Going forward, you can save time and frustration by carefully planning out each stage of your telehealth workflow.
Your details will depend on your practice and the platform you’re using, but here are a few basics to consider.
Before you start seeng patients
Communicate with your staff about when you’ll be available for telehealth appointments. Discuss how patients can schedule appointments and how you will access the information you need for each patient visit.
Clarify who will greet the patient first when they join the visit. For example, you may want a medical assistant to ask some initial questions before you join the video call.
During each visit
Telehealth etiquette can be new for patients and providers. Don’t forget to to identify yourself to new patients, confirm the patient’s identity, and make sure the patient’s equipment is working.
Other than that, keep the visit as much like an in-person visit as possible. The AMA has a Telehealth Visit Etiquette Checklist that is worth reviewing as you get comfortable with your telehealth workflow.
After each visit
5 questions to improve your telehealth workflow
Once you’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to refine. Answer these five questions to further improve your telehealth workflow.
1. What information do you need to gather from the patient to start the visit?
Before you enter the exam room, you would normally pick up the patient’s chart and take a look. The same applies to telehealth visits. Make sure to leave yourself time to have the patient’s chart on hand, and make note of any specific questions or comments they made when scheduling.
Also make sure you give yourself a few minutes to confirm that both you and the patient have a working camera and microphone. Troubleshooting audiovisual can quickly eat up a short telehealth visit, which leaves you behind schedule and everyone frustrated.
2. When do you want to offer remote visits?
When will you offer telehealth appointments? Will they be on-demand, in the style of a walk-in clinic? Will you schedule them before or after regular office hours, or block out a window during the work day?
Create a clear plan and communicate it to your staff. This will help avoid messy work overlap between your virtual and in-office appointments.
3. Where will you (as the provider) be during the visit?
This is one of the common questions that comes up when people first start using telehealth. Where will you be for the video call?
First of all, consider what your practice has space and resources for. You might designate a specific exam room as a telemedicine space, or use your personal office for this purpose. Wherever you choose, make sure the necessary technology is easy to access. Having a space sorted out in advance will make it easier to focus on caring for the patient.
4. Who will schedule visits and send patient reminders?
Scheduling and reminding patients of their appointments is one of the most important steps in your workflow. Creating a system around this may require asking some staff members to take on new tasks. Make sure to consider existing workloads and responsibilities carefully, especially if you are operating with reduced staff.
There are other important questions. Will booking for telehealth be integrate into your normal scheduling, or will it be a separate process? Will clinicians or staff send the patient a reminder prior to the visit? If you operate in a larger practice, you may consider bringing on new team members specific to telemedicine.
5. How will you bill patients?
Finally, it’s important to have a clear, sustainable financial model as you develop your telehealth workflow. Will you use a cash-for-service model, accept insurance, or both?
If accepting insurance, who will figure out telehealth billing codes? As with scheduling, it’s important to clearly communicate with your team as you add new roles and responsibilities.
Workflow is a process
When it comes to using technology effectively in healthcare, workflow is everything. It can be challenging to change how you set up and manage appointments, but putting in the time once will save hours down the line. By asking these questions now, you can make adopting telemedicine easier for yourself, your staff, and your patients.