Once relegated to rural and remote areas with limited access to health facilities, the convergence of modern technology, shrinking medical staff resources and the push to reduce cost of service is creating a perfect storm for telemedicine to go mainstream now. Health plans and providers are waking up to the surge and scrambling to adopt telemedicine as fast as state medical boards are approving licenses and billing codes.
However, simply building a telemedicine infrastructure or plunking kiosks in grocery stores doesn’t necessarily mean patients will come. Despite the apparent skyrocketing activity in telemedicine, actual adoption by patients has been slow and spotty. But make no mistake: telemedicine is here to stay. The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) expected 1.25 million online, direct to consumer patient consultations in 2015, and that number could double within two years. Signs of growth are encouraging.
If you are entering this service area, however, it’s beginning to feel a little like the Wild West out there, and adoption without strategic consideration could lead to costly mistakes. Here are seven actions that providers can take to optimize the introduction of telemedicine as a direct service to patients:
1. Establish credentials
Establish credentials for online patient consultation through accreditation with the ATA. Savvy patients see qualifications, like medical board certifications, as important criteria to establish trust and select doctors. Similarly, accreditation for telemedicine services may facilitate patient acceptance and influence choice of providers for this type of consultation. ATA describes its accreditation as “a benchmark to assure patients, payers and consumers that the organization’s online patient consultative services meets the standards and guidance established for the program.”
2. Get training
Complete proper training before delivering consultations via telemedicine. In addition to helping staff develop competency in working with clients remotely, proper training can ensure a more consistent patient experience across providers in your organization. Multiple programs are already accredited through the ATA.
3. Provide patient education
Provide patient education materials that clearly explain:
- which patient groups, by health condition, should use the service;
- what benefits will they see by engaging the service;
- how and when to engage the service;
- if and how the cost is covered by health plans; and
- what are the credentials of the providers.
4. Choose the right technology
Set up technologies that make sense for your geographic region and patient demographics. For example, some areas have poor WiFi, requiring reconsideration for use of webcam connection. In other areas, spotty cellular service may make email a better option. Also, patient characteristics, such as age, may make them more or less receptive to different modalities for communication and/or remote monitoring.
5. Find qualified partners
Qualify the right partners to set up your technological support in the same way you would qualify your medical equipment because – with telemedicine – your online, audio, video and mobile delivery systems are also your medical equipment.
6. Promote these new services
Don’t be afraid to promote your telemedicine service. Announce availability of your service for patients and prospective patients. Tout your program’s success to make engagement more relevant and appealing. There are plenty of ways to market your services without violating HIPAA. For example, you can tell patient “case stories” as examples of solutions for many individuals (like homebound elderly, busy moms and traveling professionals) without providing names and personally identifying details.
7. Be patient
Finally, be patient and don’t rush to judgement. Offering a new modality of service takes an investment of time, resources and practice to get it working optimally.
Over time, telemedicine promises to facilitate triage of cases that need to be seen in-office vs. those that can be managed to mutual benefit from home. And according to the telemedicine app eVisit, which cites industry data in a recent blog post, doctors are already saving money, retaining patients, optimizing their time, improving patient compliance and lowering liability via better documentation.