The world of healthcare is always evolving, but the COVID-19 global pandemic has forced the industry to adapt to certain changes at a faster pace than usual. Healthcare facilities that weren’t using telehealth services had to implement them almost overnight.
The good news is that telehealth services offer benefits to both the patient and provider by expanding access to care and improving workflows. Making the change to electronic information management and telecommunication in your health or wellness practice can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
In this post, we’ll cover the following topics to help your practice transition smoothly to telehealth services and effectively integrate them into your processes:
- General telehealth best practices
- Accepting online payments
- Communicating with patients
- Creating consent forms and collecting signatures
General telehealth best practices
In many cases, telehealth services can provide timely access to diagnosis and treatment while limiting person-to-person contact. This is beneficial, not just for reducing the spread of COVID-19 but for limiting exposure to contagious diseases in general.
Here are four best practices you can put in place to simplify the process of offering telehealth services and encourage patients to stay at home and use telehealth instead of going into your practice whenever it makes sense to do so.
1. Set realistic goals
Before you get started with telehealth, it’s important to establish appropriate goals. This will help you evaluate the staffing and equipment needs for these services.
Let’s say your goal is to improve patient convenience and satisfaction. After each patient uses the service, you could send them a survey to get their feedback on the process. This would allow you to see if you’ve met your objectives and determine what improvements need to be made.
2. Train your staff with the new tech
Before you can test the new telehealth technology with patients, you’ll need to ensure your staff is comfortable with it.
For example, set up training drills on a day when you won’t be seeing patients. This will help your staff become familiar with the system and how it works in a real-time setting without their day-to-day work distractions.
3. Organize an implementation team
Putting together an internal team to implement your new telehealth service can reduce expenses and ensure a smooth rollout.
The implementation team shouldn’t be limited to staff from a single function or department, like your administrative staff. For instance, your implementation team could be made up of designated clinical staff, physicians, and administrative assistants.
4. Communicate new protocols with patients
Finally, you’ll need to let your patients know about your new telehealth services. They won’t be able to use them or understand the processes if you don’t explain them.
Once you’ve implemented the new tech, reach out to patients with upcoming appointments, and tell them how their visit could be affected by the new protocols.
Another way to communicate the change is to send out postcards that include telehealth information or record a phone script that shares the details for anyone who calls your practice.
Accepting online payments
Any payments collected for telemedicine services are subject to HIPAA regulations. This means that health providers must maintain reasonable and appropriate safeguards to protect their patient’s credit card information.
Here are a few ways to provide protection for telehealth credit card payments:
Avoid storing unencrypted payment card data.
Ensure that your payment processor uses secure encryption methods.
Have your payment service provider sign a HIPAA business associate agreement.
Pro tip: If you’re looking for HIPAA-compliant payment gateways, check out this detailed payments guide.
Make sure that the private insurance plans your practice accepts cover reimbursement for telehealth services. Most will cover at least a portion of these services. Note that Medicaid and Medicare may vary in their telehealth coverage.
Keep in mind that some patients are eligible for cost-sharing through federal healthcare programs. Please see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ fact sheet regarding cost-sharing for telehealth during COVID-19 for additional information.
Communicating with patients
Communication through your new telehealth service must be HIPAA compliant. This includes any sort of digital communication with your team or patients, including email, SMS messages, and phone and video calls.
Patient data must be secure at all times if you want to avoid costly fines. This is why it’s crucial to have secure communication systems and processes in place before implementing these services.
Pro tip: If your practice is like most, a good chunk of your communication — both internally and with patients — takes place over email or video calls. Here are guides to the best HIPAA-compliant email providers as well as the best HIPAA-compliant videoconferencing software.
Do your research before selecting any communication software to find the right fit for your organization.
Creating consent forms and collecting signatures
The final key component to a successful telehealth transition is digitizing all of your consent forms and your signature collection processes.
After all, if people aren’t coming into your office to fill out forms, this means you have to mail the forms (which would add days — if not weeks — to the process), fax the forms (healthcare providers still do a lot of faxing, but there’s a better way), or create digital forms with e-signature capabilities.
Patients should be able to sign paperwork and consent forms from any device, anywhere and at any time.
Like any form of digital communication, your consent forms need to be secure and HIPAA compliant. HIPAA-compliant form builders, like JotForm, make it easy to build forms and collect signatures, often within a few minutes.
In addition to the tips above, it’s important to listen to your staff and patients to find out what’s working and what’s not during your transition to telehealth services.
Telehealth isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for each practice. It takes a bit of trial and error to get your process streamlined and efficient. You can always improve your process if you’re open to feedback.
Annabel Maw is the director of communications at JotForm, a full-featured online form builder for simple data collection and management.
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