How to Get Started With Telemedicine

By: on March 19, 2020

Coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19, is a rapidly evolving global pandemic that has forced governments, businesses, and citizens all over the world to make rapid and drastic changes in order to staunch the spread, flatten the curve, and save as many lives as possible.

All of the efforts being made are noble and necessary, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy on businesses to close their doors indefinitely—and that applies to medical practices as well.

So what can independent practices do to serve their patients during this outbreak and staunch the revenue loss before it becomes critical? One of the solutions is to adopt telemedicine technology. Not familiar with this type of software?

Here’s what you need to know:

  • COVID-19 is threatening businesses
  • Telemedicine is a perfect answer to COVID-19
  • How to find the right telemedicine technology for your practice
  • Key tips to implement new telemedicine technology
  • Telemedicine will be valuable post-coronavirus as well

COVID-19 is threatening businesses

In a survey we conducted on March 13, 2020 of nearly 1,000 U.S. respondents, almost half said they either already canceled medical appointments or they intend to cancel medical appointments due to fears of COVID-19.

Note that this survey was conducted in the second week of March 2020, and with the rapid evolution of COVID-19 it’s highly likely that the number of patients canceling appointments has grown significantly even in the short amount of time since we collected this data.

For independent practices, that represents nearly half of their revenue gone. Fortunately, telemedicine is a ready-made solution that’s already helping practices and hospitals address the threat of coronavirus.

Telemedicine is a perfect answer to COVID-19

Telemedicine is not a new technology—in fact, it’s been around for years. That means software providers have had plenty of time to work out all the bugs and kinks in these systems, so practices that adopt them today won’t have to spend a ton of time troubleshooting.

Beyond the fact that it’s already an established healthcare tool, the thing that makes telemedicine technology so perfectly equipped to handle coronavirus is the fact that it enables doctors to deliver care for all manner of conditions remotely.

Telemedicine helps deal with COVID-19 in two ways:

  1. It allows patients with COVID-19 symptoms to consult with providers remotely, preventing the spread of the virus while ensuring they still receive quality care.
  2. It allows immunocompromised patients to continue receiving much-needed care for chronic conditions without putting them at risk by forcing them to visit medical offices to receive that care.

In the same survey conducted earlier in March 2020, we found that 61% of businesses across a variety of markets have either purchased new software to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak or intend to within the next 4 to 6 weeks.

Among these businesses are medical practices investing in new telemedicine software to provide a better-suited approach to healthcare as we deal with this pandemic.

But how can these practices make sure they’re selecting the best telemedicine systems quickly?

How to find the right telemedicine technology for your practice

Choosing telemedicine software is like selecting any other type of medical system—there are certain boxes you’ll want to check no matter what. To that end, we’ve created a checklist to help you more quickly roadmap your telemedicine selection process, assess different systems, and choose the best one for your practice.

Checklist: How to select new telemedicine software

Assess your needs

Come up with a list of required features based on any relevant information such as specialty practice requirements or text-based communication methods. Use these requirements to identify the telemedicine features you absolutely must have and those that would be nice to have. Some functionalities that you’ll definitely want to look into will be:

  • Secure videoconferencing
  • Appointment setting and virtual waiting room
  • E-prescribing

Supplement this list with your own required features and move on to the next step.

Plan your budget

It’s unclear how long this pandemic will last, but we know telemedicine is going to be a valuable tool after COVID-19 too, so you’d be wise to plan on paying for this software indefinitely. Most telemedicine systems are cloud-based and bill on a monthly basis, so factor that into your budget planning as well.

And remember, you can always reassess the value of telemedicine after the outbreak has settled down. There is some degree of urgency here, but it’s crucial to strike a balance between buying the first telemedicine system you find and taking the time to pick the best one for your practice.

Identify your top contenders

Whether you use our medical software advisors to come up with your shortlist or rely on your own research, the goal here is to narrow down your list of options in order to expedite the selection process.

You’ll want to pick no more than five products that meet your needs, as conducting demos with any more than that would be too time-consuming.

Schedule product demos

Reach out to each of the software providers on your shortlist to schedule demos in which a representative from their team will walk you through the software’s product and features. You’ll also want to come up with a list of questions ahead of these demos to ask each vendor.

A few good ones to ask right now are:

  • ✔ What kind of customer support do they offer?
  • ✔ Have they built out any training modules for new users?
  • ✔ What can they tell you about integrating their software with other medical systems (e.g., EHRs and practice management systems)?
  • ✔ Have they run into issues with the increased user load related to COVID-19?

Evaluate products and pick your winner

Come up with a grading system (or use this one that we’ve already created) to score each product based on their demos and the answers to your questions. Use this objective grading system to pick the top product so you can move ahead with purchasing and deploying.

Key tips to implement new telemedicine technology

Once you select your new telemedicine system, the goal will be to ramp up as quickly as possible in order to start offering remote care to your patients. Before you can do that, you’ll need to come up with a strategic plan for two issues: Integration with existing software and internal and external communication.

The best telemedicine software is one that integrates with your existing systems

This has never been more true that it is right now, when deployment is such a critical priority. If your hope is to launch telemedicine at your practice as quickly as possible (and it should be), you need to make sure your telemedicine software fits in with the rest of your medical tech as seamlessly as possible. There are two main systems you’ll want integrations for:

  • Electronic health records: There’s not enough time to take notes with your telemedicine’s clinical documentation feature during exams and then transcribe them to your EHR. Instead, look for a telemedicine system that automatically sends notes to your electronic records to avoid duplicate work.
  • Billing: If your practice relies on Medicare reimbursement, you absolutely must have a billing system and a telemedicine system that work together. You’ll need to be able to accurately code telehealth appointments and submit claims quickly, which will be a lot easier to do with software.

You’ll need two communication strategies—one for employees and one for patients

First, as your staff trains on the new telemedicine technology, it’s going to be imperative that you create and maintain a repository of information for them to reference as they need to.

Consider including the following information:

  • FAQs, or frequently asked questions, both provided by the telemedicine vendor during trainings and those that come up during these learning sessions.
  • Privacy and security rules including things such as processes for setting and maintaining strong passwords and HIPAA regulations around telehealth.
  • Other processes such as how to set up virtual waiting rooms and how to speak to patients about their new telemedicine options.

The last bullet leads into your next task: Come up with an organized way to communicate these new telemedicine options to your patients.

Having telemedicine does no good if your patients don’t know about it, so consider sending out an email to all patients, posting on your website, communicating through patient portals—or all three. Your job here is to get the word out and make sure patients have easy access to simplistic instructions for using your telemedicine services.

Telemedicine will be valuable post-coronavirus as well

One final thing that’s important to note here: Telemedicine is an excellent tool uniquely qualified to address the COVID-19 outbreak, but it’s also a great way to improve the patient experience, even outside the context of coronavirus.

We know from another survey we conducted in February of this year that a majority of patients prefer practices that offer telemedicine and remote appointments over practices that don’t.

patients are more likely to choose practices that offer telemedicine over ones that don't

We also learned that around half of patients prefer remote exams for treating colds, which could help you continue the habits developed during the height of COVID-19 around protecting your patients from contageons within your waiting rooms.

Patients prefer telemedicine for treating cold-like symptoms

So when you’re ready to narrow down your list of telemedicine software options and choose the best one for your practice and your patients, schedule a call or start a chat with our team of expert medical software advisors. We are a free service that can make recommendations on telemedicine software that will the best fit for your business in order to cut down on your research timeline so you can be ready to serve your patients.

You may also like:

Small-Practice Remote Medical Monitoring Guide

Should You Offer Telemedicine Services? Patients Weigh In

Use Patient Preference to Improve Patient Care Through Technology

Start comparing telemedicine software now.