Integrating Telemedicine into Your Practice

Jun 19, 2020

When times change, what humans do – and how we do things – needs to change as well.

As a doctor, you undoubtedly understand that concept. After all, the treatment plans you create for your patients are in response to changes in their health, right?

And now that we’re all living in a time unlike any other that we’ve ever experienced, the way you practice medicine is probably changing.

It has to!

Empty streets of New York City during Coronavirus quarantine

Between CDC and WHO recommendations, governmental mandates, and people who just want to stay safe, many patients are reluctant or unable to visit your office.

But they still have medical needs – and you still provide services to address those needs.

For those reasons, smart doctors are using telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an excellent way to keep providing valuable medical services, and perhaps integrating telemedicine into your practice makes a lot of sense for you as well.

Because we want you to both survive the current situation and thrive once we’ve overcome it, our goal here is to answer some common questions doctors like you have, such as:

  • What is telemedicine?
  • Why is it important for you?
  • How can you implement telemedicine at your practice?
  • What kind of telemedicine options are there?
  • How will your patients know you offer it?

What is telemedicine and how does it work in practice?

We’ve read numerous definitions of telemedicine and are partial to how the American Academy of Family Physicians puts it:

“Telemedicine is the practice of medicine using technology to deliver care at a distance.”

In other words, you use technology to care for a patient who isn’t in the same room – or even in the same building – as you.

doctor having virtual appointment with sick patient in bed

Given that people are encouraged or mandated to stay at home (although, medical services qualify as “essential” in most states and municipalities), you can likely already see a clear benefit here:

Telemedicine enables you to keep caring for your patients during a time like this.

Now, while you obviously cannot provide all medical services remotely – virtual surgeries aren’t happening any time soon – examples of things you can do include:

  • Conduct follow-up appointments
  • Perform initial inspections and diagnoses
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Answer patient questions
  • Provide medical advice

What is the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?

This question comes up often for a simple reason:

Both utilize technology to make it easier for you to provide healthcare to your patients.

Unsurprisingly, then, some people have started using the terms interchangeably. That’s a mistake, however, as they aren’t quite the same.

Put simply, telehealth refers to a greater scope of services. And while telemedicine is a part, that scope also includes nonclinical applications like administrative meetings and continuing medical education. When referring exclusively to clinical services, telemedicine is the appropriate term.

How is telemedicine changing healthcare?

Now that you can see why telemedicine is so important for your practice during times like these, let’s switch gears for a second to look ahead. In doing so, here’s what you’ll find:

Telemedicine is not some fad that’s going away.

On the contrary, these are the early stages of a trend that will keep growing.

Patients who utilize telemedicine services now are finding this to be an incredibly easy and convenient way to connect with their doctors.

And after the coronavirus pandemic subsides, they’re going to want the same ease and convenience. More than that, they’ll tell others about their experiences – which can lead to new patients for you.

Clearly, your practice stands to benefit from this exciting trend.

To make that happen, you need to know how to properly use telemedicine at your practice and promote it to your patients and potential patients.

Doctor with a stethoscope. Telemedicine concept

How to use telemedicine services during COVID-19 (and beyond!)

In a situation like this – one where almost everyone is practicing responsible social distancing and protective measures (either by choice or by governmental mandate) – other healthcare needs do not just go away.

Your patients and future patients still need the medical services you provide.

Telemedicine is obviously an outstanding choice to continue offering those services, so how do you start a telemedicine program?

The first steps are all related to evaluating your technological options and then determining which software options make the most amount of sense for you and your practice.

Given the fact you are likely reading this post on a phone, tablet, or laptop, you already have a key part of the technology you need to implement telemedicine. The odds are pretty good that you have (at least) a second device that will provide you with a second screen.

We address this in another post, but having a second screen is useful because you’ll use one for communication with your patient and the other to access health records, take notes, etc.

When it comes to your software options, you’ll find that they are myriad.

Additionally, three big concerns here are:

  1. HIPAA Compliance. It is difficult to overstate how crucial it is to perform your due diligence in making sure you choose a platform that complies with HIPAA regulations. Without trying to sound alarmist, failure to do so could lead to lawsuits. (Seriously, we cannot emphasize greatly enough how important this is for you!) Fortunately, there are many programs out there that are fully compliant – just make sure you choose one that is.
  2. Call/Video Performance. Complying with federal regulations is something many doctors would already consider. Less obvious is making sure that you choose a telemedicine program that has great visual and auditory performance. Your patient’s experience matters, and a poorly performing system can leave a sour taste in the mouth. Again, the good news on this front is that doctors are finding outstanding options here.
  3. Insurance Reimbursement. When you provide a service, it’s only natural that you expect to be paid for it. This can vary from insurance provider to insurance provider, but you’ll find that telemedicine programs accepted at most major companies will be somewhat uniform. That said, this is another area where it really pays to do a little digging and ensure your services are covered. (A great way to do this is to reach out to fellow doctors who are already finding success with telemedicine.)

For more information about this, you may be interested in checking out this telemedicine health care provider fact sheet on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) website.

Additionally, this page lists and links to over two dozen telemedicine platform options. Obviously, there is some bias (since VSee is one of the platforms), but it is still a great resource you can use in researching and determining what might be best for you and your practice.

(DISCLAIMER: VMD Services has not evaluated the platforms to determine HIPAA compliance, or lack thereof. We make no claim that all listed options are HIPAA compliant, nor are we promoting any specific service. It is the sole responsibility of a practice owner/decision maker to conduct his or her own research before choosing a telemedicine platform.)

What are your next steps?

After you have your tools and software, you will need to decide how you are going to use telemedicine and what specific services you will be providing. Since we touched on this earlier, let’s move ahead to a very important consideration:

How do your patients know you’re offering telemedicine?

Well, this is something we cover more extensively in this post, but the basic answer is that you use your marketing channels.

Email and social media are both outstanding vehicles for conveying information like this, but don’t forget about your website! You should have a banner or popup on your site’s homepage and a dedicated landing page (which will also need an accompanying thank you page). Because it is proven to drive greater action, you also want to include videos in your telemedicine marketing campaign.

If that sounds like a lot – and, trust us, we understand if it does – don’t worry! We’ve got your back:

VMD Services has created a special campaign to help you promote telemedicine at your practice.

Even better, this campaign probably already fits within your existing plan. Contact your account manager today to see what this means for you!

 

Fill your waiting room with the kinds of patients you want to treat.

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