As the COVID-19 crisis continues, telehealth has emerged as the latest disruption to the healthcare industry. While healthcare providers and consumers alike were slow to adopt telehealth before the crisis – only 19 percent of Americans had used it – it has quickly become a vital care delivery mechanism. Nearly two-thirds of Americans now say the pandemic has increased their willingness to try telehealth.
As social distancing continues to be a necessity, physician practices can begin increasing patient volume and revenue, which are down 60 percent and 55 percent respectively since the start of the pandemic, by giving their patients much-needed access to virtual care. Yet, many practices aren’t familiar with best practices for telehealth. Below are three tips that can help practices avoid missteps, bottlenecks and negative patient experiences.
1. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and other payers responded quickly during coronavirus pandemic by adjusting reimbursement for telehealth to be more consistent with traditional office visits. It’s important to note, however, that CMS defines and covers telehealth and technology-enabled services differently. For example, unlike virtual check-ins and e-visits that wouldn’t normally occur in person, Medicare telehealth services would normally occur in person but are instead conducted via telecommunications technology, therefore they’re paid at the full in-person rate. As always, it’s best to refer to CMS’ FAQs for specific details.
2. Next, practices need an end-to-end telehealth workflow that incorporates administrative and revenue cycle processes adjusted specifically for telehealth, including tasks such as scheduling, cost estimation and patient payments. As much as possible, practices should enable tasks to be accomplished using mobile patient self-service tools.
3. Lastly, building upon the workflow and process foundation, practices need the following operational components to enable a successful telehealth program:
Patient Outreach and Coordination: Put processes in place to determine which patients can be treated via telehealth and ensure your patients are aware of this option.
Clinical Training and Preparation: Arm your physicians with the information they need to maintain their high-quality standards in a telehealth environment and ensure each appointment has the optimal outcome.
Patient Experience Strategy: Leverage pre-visit and post-visit communications to set patient expectations and deliver an excellent patient experience.
Given how quickly patients, providers and payers have embraced telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic, many industry experts believe the shift to telehealth will continue post-crisis. Many patients may prefer to use telehealth in the new post-COVID reality. Providers that innovate now to implement a successful telehealth access strategy may avoid the pain of current patient access restrictions – and gain patients in the future.