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6 Crucial Considerations for Integrating Telemedicine with your Healthcare Practice

7 Dec, 2020

Today, the majority of primary care physicians fret that telemedicine is way too time-consuming and complicated for them to execute in their already busy practices. However, physicians who have adopted this state-of-the-art technology advise there is absolutely no need to spend a fortune or reinvent the wheel entirely to start seeing positive results with telemedicine.

The healthcare industry is already at the tipping point. According to a September 2020 market intelligence study published by BIS Research, the global telemedicine market was estimated at $21.55 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $123 billion by the end of 2030. The market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.66% during the forecast period 2020-2030.

It only makes sense for healthcare practices—both big and small—to leverage the potential that telehealth solutions offer before the competition becomes too much.

In this piece, we will be looking at six important considerations healthcare providers should be aware of before integrating telemedicine with their practice to make the transition more seamless.

1) Licensing, Credentialing, and Basic Regulatory Obligations

It’s important to remember that a telemedicine practice also has to comply with several regulatory barriers, such as those from regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), etc. 

That’s why it’s important to ensure you are aware of—and have met—all regulations for not only the state in which your practice is based out of, but in the state(s) where the patients you serve are going to be located. You’ll also want to make sure that you have the staff, operational processes, and skills to monitor the changing regulatory landscape at fixed intervals. 

Here are a few other important questions to consider when starting out your telemedicine journey

  1. If your telemedicine practice is located in a different state than your patient, are you eligible to practice in the state where the patient resides? 
  2. Does the state allow a “foreign” employed physician to practice locally or will you be required to seek certain permissions first?  
  3. Furthermore, even if licensed and in compliance with regulatory constraints, is each physician that will be providing the teleservice appropriately credentialed by the hospital in which the patient is receiving care, or otherwise following regulatory obligations and privilege? 

2) HIPAA Privacy and Security

With more and more patient information being stockpiled and shared electronically, healthcare providers need to ensure data is maintained in ways compliant with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and other privacy regulations. 

It requires supplemental measures which can add layers of security through workflows, resource requirements, and technical architecture investments. Providers need to make sure that compliance is maintained at each stage of data management—right from the moment it enters the organization to when it leaves it.

You can try looking for a partner with proven success in managing security in terms of where and how protected information is stored, updated, moved, and accessed, and how those handling this information are trained and monitored around the clock. 

3) Staff Training

In order for you to see optimal financial and clinical outcomes from your telemedicine program, you’ll mostly have to make a few adjustments to your operational protocols. That’s because with telemedicine, you’re bringing in a lot more than a fresh piece of technology—you’re bringing in an opportunity to modify how you deliver care. 

Your staff not only needs to understand what to do with the new equipment, but also how to integrate it into their daily workflows, and when to use it (and when not to). Nurse Practitioners, physician partners, and allied staff affected by the protocols will need to receive training particular to their role in the process. 

All staff will also need training on integrating telehealth into existing workflows—right from labs, imaging, registration and billing, to pharmacy, and follow-up—based on the requirements of your telemedicine program. 

One way to easily manage all of this is finding a telehealth platform like Mend that assists with or completely handles establishing protocols and staff training. 

4) Technology Requirements and Integration

A lot of evolving technologies are taking the world of telehealth by storm at present. This not only includes the commonly employed audio and video-conferencing solutions like telemedicine carts, but also the peripheral diagnostic devices used to assess patients remotely. 

What’s often overlooked is both the ability of the technology to integrate into existing workflows, processes, and infrastructure; and for it to be able to scale for broader use. It should hold the potential to be easily used by all providers across the organization’s departments and facilities. The same goes for whether or not it can be integrated with the institution’s EMR or EHR, imaging infrastructure, and lab systems running atop the enterprise-wide security infrastructure with single sign-on. 

Simply put, whatever partner you choose should be capable of demonstrating and validating how the technology can integrate with protocols, workflows, and equipment you already have, or how things need to change to be clinically safe, and operationally and fiscally efficient. 

You need to constantly adapt and innovate in order to achieve telemedicine success.

5) Billing 

Billing is an aspect providers often fail to pay heed to when telemedicine programs are piloted. You’ll need to figure out the process for ensuring precise billing for both facility fees and professional fees of your partners as well as staff, so you don’t find yourself on the wrong side of a call from the concerned authorities. 

You will also need to figure out if your clinical service qualifies for pro-fees, what codes will be used for telemedicine billing, and whether your site will be able to benefit from facility fees. Another common challenge is understanding how to equitably compensate a team of physicians supporting a service when they themselves have pay disparity. 

Consider how you’ll address disparate pay scales for providers participating in your telemedicine solution. If your specialists live and typically practice in a large metropolitan area, they will invariably be paid a higher rate than where a patient in a remote, rural area resides. However, reimbursement will likely be linked to the patient’s location, not the provider’s. 

6) Patient Onboarding

Lastly, it is important to remember that while telemedicine is a huge relief for patients, they can often also be hesitant when it comes to embracing it in their daily lives. A few of your patients might not historically be technologically savvy and might end up feeling that they can’t use something like telemedicine because they won’t always have the backup or help that they need.

Getting your patients onboard with telemedicine more often than not demands that you show them the benefits that come alongside its adoption, and not simply tell them that. By telling them it is going to be easy, they may still hesitate. By walking them through the experience to show that the actual connection takes far less time and effort, they will be confident to attempt doing it by themselves without supervision. 

The effort on the part of the organization can be as little as 5-10 minutes, but the outcomes can significantly create opportunities for transportation-less care for those who struggle to get to sessions, increase telemedicine utilization, and provide additional opportunities for follow up once other obstacles are removed.

Implementing telemedicine in your primary care practice is really more about the effort you put in than the time or money you invest. This is one of those technologies that can get you instant results and contribute toward ameliorating your practice’s bottom line when done right. 

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