In March 2020, physicians across the country rapidly deployed telehealth solutions to continue to care for their patients in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and private insurers relaxed HIPAA requirements and raised reimbursement rates for telehealth. At the time, most physicians used whichever system was easiest, such as popular social media platforms. Now, many are seeking to upgrade to a solution that meets their long-term needs.
With hundreds of telehealth platforms on the market today, narrowing down the field is not an easy process. When choosing or reevaluating a platform, consider these tips.
Put patient needs first. Patients can now choose from a variety of providers offering telehealth, including national services that are promoted by their health insurance plans. Most will choose the care that is easiest to access, such as through one-click launching with any browser on any device, says Jay Backstrom, telehealth practice leader for Impact Advisors, a health care consulting firm. In addition, patients may have different expectations for telehealth than an in-person visit, he says. They may tolerate a 20- to 30-minute wait in the office, but they might get impatient after waiting 5 or 10 minutes for a telehealth appointment.
Choose a platform that is built for clinical care. Popular social media platforms may have worked in a pinch, but for the long term, practices will need a platform that integrates smoothly with their EHR and meets HIPAA requirements, including business associate agreements. Video quality is sometimes better with clinical care platforms, too, according to Lloyd Sirmons, director of the Southeastern Telehealth Resource Center, a government-funded agency that promotes the use of telehealth technology.
Incorporate triage solutions. Making the most of telehealth means ensuring it gets used for the right patients and situations. Physicians can start with a symptom checker that directs patients to virtual, in-person, or emergency care. Practices also need a mechanism, such as front office staff, an online checklist, or an equipment test, to make sure that patients have the necessary equipment to participate in telehealth appointments.
At the time of the appointment, a medical technician or nurse can start the virtual visit, checking vitals and troubleshooting technology before the physician joins the call. Other useful features include a built-in scheduler or appointment reminders for patients.
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