The healthcare industry is evolving at a rapid pace, and an increasing number of practitioners are resorting to digital healthcare and transitioning to a virtual practice.

With the help of live video, audio, and instant messaging, practitioners can easily communicate with their patients, ensuring that they are getting the care they need, when they need it.

It’s important to remember that the same standard of care that patients receive in face-to-face consults must also be maintained in a virtual practice.

Here are some tips to help you transition your patients to telehealth.

person talking with headphones on laptop in living room

Digital tools allow practitioners to easily communicate with their patients, ensuring they get the care they need, when they need it..

Transitioning existing patients

When making the transition to a virtual practice, it’s essential that patients be made aware of what virtual care services are being provided and how they will be communicated (e.g., email, text message, invite via specific application). (1)

This can be done by having staff proactively reach out to patients, as well as posting announcements on your website, patient portals, and any other patient communication mediums you may have. (3)

Provide context

Helping patients feel prepared to access and navigate virtual care is essential. Consider outlining the process of signing up for virtual care, along with a list of conditions that are eligible and excluded. (7)

Educate patients about your virtual services, ensuring that there is adequate time to set expectations, answer questions, and discuss how remote monitoring can assist them in reaching their goals. (2)

Explain the benefits

Let patients know what’s in it for them by reviewing some of the key benefits of remote visits.

  • No transportation time or costs: By seeing a practitioner virtually, patients can save money on gas, parking, and public transportation.
  • Less time missed at work: Appointments can be scheduled during work breaks or before/after work. Additionally, virtual consults can be done from anywhere, so there is no need to waste precious paid time off.
  • Eliminate the need for child or elder care: Virtual consults allow patients to see their healthcare practitioner while managing family responsibilities.
  • Reduced risk of exposure to illness: Virtual consults eliminate the chance of catching something from another patient in the waiting room.
  • Improved health outcomes: Being able to see a healthcare practitioner as often as needed can help put patients on the path to better health. (5)

Address the top concerns about virtual care

In 2016, Medscape, an online medical news resource, surveyed 1423 healthcare providers, including 847 physicians, and 1103 patients to assess their attitudes toward telemedicine and other emerging technologies in healthcare.

Quality of care

Patients’ number one concern was whether the diagnosis will be accurate. (6)

You can address this concern by assuring the patient that not every medical situation is appropriate for a virtual consult. Advise patients that practitioners and staff know when it is safe and effective to conduct a consultation virtually, and when it is more appropriate to recommend a face-to-face consult. (5)

Privacy and security

Patients might also be concerned about the privacy and security of their confidential medical information in a digital world.

Make sure that you are using a virtual care technology that meets the strict standards of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Reassure patients that the platform is designed specifically to protect their information. (5)

Talk about insurance coverage

Patients are going to want to know if virtual consults are covered by insurance. Offer to verify eligibility for such coverage before the visit. (5) Medicare, for example, will cover the same amount for telehealth services that they would if patients received the service in person. (10)

Onboarding patients

The actual process of transitioning patients online will depend on which virtual care technologies you chose to implement in your practice. The following section is some general considerations.

To perform virtual consults, patients will need:

  • A computer, tablet or smartphone
  • An internet connection and access to download the virtual care system application
  • A valid personal email address
  • An account with the virtual care system

The first step in the onboarding process is for the healthcare provider to invite patients to the virtual care platform with an email invitation. Patients will need a valid personal email address for this step.

Patients will have to accept the invitation to the virtual care platform and complete their account registration. Patients may need to review the terms and conditions, as well as the privacy policy of the virtual platform before finalizing registration.

If the virtual platform is not web-based, patients may have to download the platform application to their computer, tablet, or smartphone.

In order to perform a virtual consultation, patients will need to login to their account, at which point they are brought to a virtual waiting room. Patients should make sure that their microphone, webcam, and speakers are working before the session.

The healthcare practitioner will receive a notification that the patient is in the virtual waiting room and, as soon as they are ready, will connect with the patient to begin the consultation. (12)

Scheduling patients

Patient scheduling may seem like a relatively simple process. However, efficient patient scheduling can have a huge impact on delivery of care and a practitioner’s ability to keep wait times to a minimum so that patient satisfaction stays high and practice profitability stays consistent.

woman looking at her calendar on computer screen while holding a phone

Utilize online booking options within virtual health platforms.

There are many digital tools that exist to schedule patient visits.

Patients might call to make an appointment by talking to a digital assistant, they might type out their request to a chatbot online, or they might self-schedule through a patient portal. (11)

Many virtual care platforms have online booking options for patients. What the patient sees in the calendar is what staff sees, with no extra configuration required. If this is a feature in which you are interested, ensure that it is included in your virtual care platform of choice. (9)

Visit structure and flow

Virtual visits are not really much different than in-person visits. The only difference is that patients see and speak to their healthcare provider virtually.

Patients can just speak normally as if they are having an in-person conversation. On the virtual platform, patients should be able to see and hear their healthcare practitioner clearly. (8)

Pre-visit

As is the case with in-person visits, it is generally a good idea to send out a reminder to patients prior to their visit to confirm their availability. Be sure to send out automated appointment reminders within the cancellation policy window, allowing enough time for patients to reschedule if needed.

Virtual visit

Healthcare providers should follow the same standards they would for any in-person medical visit. For instance, practitioners should practice by the same code of ethics, comply with HIPAA security guidelines, document properly, and follow their licensing guidelines. (3)

woman sitting in her house smiling at the camera

Maintaining eye contact during a virtual visit is especially important.

Be aware of certain special considerations for virtual visits, including:

  • Privacy: The space in which the virtual visit is taking place should be private so that no one else can hear the conversation.
  • Noise level: Ensure that there are no excessive noises that could present distractions, such as doorbells, outside noises, TVs, radios, and other conversations.
  • Visual distractions: The background in the camera should be neutral, free of all clutter.
  • Lighting: You should ensure that your face is fully lit and in the frame throughout the consultation. Watch out for shadows, reflections, and glare. A quick guide to telemedicine lighting can be found here.
  • Clothing: As tempting as it might be to dress down since you are working from home, it’s important to continue to dress in professional attire. Clothing that contrasts your background is best. Try to avoid patterns that are visually distracting.
  • Eye contact: Maintaining eye contact during a virtual consultation is crucial. The patient should feel as if they have your full attention. Avoid doing other work, looking at other screens, or taking notes for long periods of time. Explain to your clients why you are looking away when it is necessary. It can be distracting, and even unnerving, for your clients if they see you constantly looking away. (13)

Post-visit

After a virtual visit is complete, all documentation should be completed and updated to reflect what occurred during the consultation.

Additionally, any referrals or prescriptions should be provided to patients, though arrangements will have to be made for this to be done virtually.

Patient adherence

Maintaining patient adherence is a challenge that most practitioners face, whether seeing patients in-person or virtually. Fortunately, many digital tools exist that can help improve patient adherence, a benefit to both practitioner and patient.

Learn more about improving patient adherence on the Fullscript blog.

Keeping track of patient activity

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is a healthcare delivery method that uses technology to monitor patient health outside the clinic. The technology allows for the transmission of information between patients and healthcare practitioners.

An example of an RPM device is a blood pressure cuff that allows patients to remotely send physicians their blood pressure and pulse. 

RPM services do not require interactive audio-visual, rather it simply requires technology to collect and interpret physiological data. Medicare reimburses RPM services just like in-person clinical services. (4)

Some of the top RPM service providers include:

There are also a number of apps that can help you and your patients keep track of important health information, such as symptoms, nutrient and water intake, exercise levels, and sleep quality. Learn more about top recommended wellness apps from Fullscript practitioners.

The bottom line

With the popularity of smartphones and video chat, many of your patients may already be familiar with the basic functions needed to enable virtual care visits. However, it is important to maintain clear communication with them so they know what to expect, what the benefits are, and how they can get started with virtual care.

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  1. Alberta Medical Association. (2020). Virtual care. Retrieved from https://www.albertadoctors.org/leaders-partners/ehealth/virtual-care
  2. American Medical Association. (2020) Digital health implementation playbook. Retrieved from https://www.ama-assn.org/amaone/ama-digital-health-implementation-playbook
  3. American Medical Association. (2020). AMA quick guide to telemedicine in practice. Retrieved from https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/digital/ama-quick-guide-telemedicine-practice
  4. Business Insider. (2019). The technology, devices, and benefits of remote patient monitoring in the healthcare industry. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/remote-patient-monitoring-industry-explained
  5. Chiron. (2016). Explaining telemedicine to patients. Retrieved from https://chironhealth.com/blog/explaining-telemedicine-patients/
  6. Chiron. (2016). Overcoming roadblocks to telemedicine adoption. Retrieved from https://chironhealth.com/blog/overcoming-roadblocks-telemedicine-adoption
  7. Doctors Technology Office. (2020). Virtual care – toolkit. Retrieved from https://www.doctorsofbc.ca/sites/default/files/dto_virtual_care_toolkit.pdf
  8. First Nations Health Authority. (n.d.). My telehealth appointment: what should I know? Retrieved from: https://www.fnha.ca/Documents/FNHA-My-Telehealth-Appointment-What-Should-I-Know.pdf
  9. Jane app. (2020). Features. Retrieved from https://jane.app/features
  10. Medicare.gov. (2020). Telehealth. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/telehealth
  11. Modern Healthcare. (2018). Health systems save money using digital tools for scheduling appointments, administrative work. Retrieved from https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20180707/TRANSFORMATION02/180709982/health-systems-save-money-using-digital-tools-for-scheduling-appointments-administrative-work
  12. Reacts. (2020). How to prepare for my first video visit with my health professional. Retrieved from: https://reacts.com/onboarding-patient/
  13. TheraNest. (2020). The complete guide to telehealth for therapists. Retrieved from https://theranest.com/blog/telehealth-getting-started/