The COVID-19 crisis has significantly affected the patient/provider relationship and accelerated the need for offering virtual care in the U.S. Once federal and state restrictions were lowered and payer reimbursements (including Medicare) became more readily available, practices rapidly adopted telehealth to give patients access to their providers anytime, anywhere. It is predicted that by 2025, 15-25% of all U.S. primary care visits will be conducted virtually, according to a report from Chilmark Research.
The transformation to virtual health visits did not occur overnight. Challenges needed to be addressed regarding workflow which is more efficient when virtual care is integrated with practice management (PM) systems for scheduling and billing and EHRs for clinical documentation. Patients, providers, and staff need to be comfortable with this technology as virtual care becomes mainstream in care delivery and practice operations.
With more than 78 locations throughout Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia, Capital Women’s Care integrated virtual visits after experiencing a 30-40% reduction in patient visits when the pandemic began. This approach helped them bring volume back, thanks to a few key considerations.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, providers at Capital Women’s Care used telehealth mainly to address semi-urgent patient concerns, such as recent symptoms and medication options. The public health emergency made it necessary to expand virtual health visits to more areas of women’s healthcare, such as obstetrical care. The practice has found that this technology can be used for various services such as family planning, wellness exams, birth control consultations and urinary tract infection or sexually transmitted disease treatment.
Audio-only visits are acceptable as an option to patients who have limited technology, but virtual visits have become much more mainstream across primary and specialty care and are easier to facilitate—especially when they are integrated into the provider’s EHR/PM platform.
Audio and video synchronization through virtual health visits enable patients to receive care from the convenience and safety of their homes. As Damon Hou, MD, medical director, health informatics at Capital Women’s Care, pointed out, “Virtual visits enable providers to pick up on nonverbal cues that they would not be able to perceive from a phone call.”
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It’s essential to initiate training to prepare doctors for virtual health visits. Upon implementation of his practice’s telehealth platform, Dr. Hou developed extensive training sessions to help his colleagues adapt and learn how to administer care through this technology. As a result of the training, more than 200 of the practice’s providers were using virtual tools in just two weeks.
Helping patients adjust to virtual visits is equally essential to training providers. Preparing an etiquette guide for the patient or best practices will ensure that they use the technology efficiently and maximize the appointment time with the doctor. Developing a set of FAQs also helps patients embrace these visits and become comfortable seeing their providers face to face from the comfort and safety of their homes.
“Night and day” is how Dr. Hou compares a virtual health visit solution integrated into workflows and the EHR with a non-integrated platform. Integration ensures vital data is accessible to the provider during the virtual visit. In addition, an integrated platform ensures compliance and proper security measures are in place to reduce lapses. “There’s a pathway, which is easy to audit. This means no additional work for the provider,” said Dr. Hou. “It becomes unnecessary for the provider to determine whether they can bill the patient because the information is already built into the EHR and PM.”
In an integrated solution, providers will often have access to:
With an integrated system, providers don’t have to worry about capturing missed appointments and other vital data. Integration ensures data is accessible to the provider during the virtual health visit. Phone tag with patients waste valuable time they could be spending with patients. Virtual visits reduce back-and-forth calls because the appointment is scheduled in an allotted time slot, streamlining the process and ensuring the patient and the physician have chosen a time when they both will be available—no more phone tag and no more lost revenue.
The views and opinions expressed in this content or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.
The COVID-19 pandemic thrust connected care into the spotlight—and the use of connected care technology has grown exponentially in a matter of weeks and months. But the terminologies and definitions used in the U.S. vary widely. Accelerate Health developed a brief primer in an effort to provide understanding and clarity to the full range of connected care and telehealth definitions and terms.