Today’s clinics and hospitals use a multitude of software products and services such as EMRs, payment and billing systems, scheduling systems, and patient portals to name a few. A store-and-forward telemedicine system adds to the existing technological burden on providers and medical staff. It is another system to learn, another set of usernames and passwords to maintain, and another system that patients will ask questions about. Just as with other systems in the clinic, the medical staff will need training.
Adopting telemedicine within an existing private practice or healthcare system is an organizational change—every member of the organization, including providers, office managers, and medical staff must be on board with and learn new workflows. Due to the needed “buy-in” and participation of multiple parties involved, telemedicine implementations have the potential to be quite challenging. During staff training and ramp-up, telemedicine vendors and key medical personnel must communicate the benefits of telemedicine, including benefits to the patients and clinic/healthcare system to not lose focus on the overall goal.
For a successful telemedicine implementation, a healthcare organization should also have a provider telemedicine champion in charge of leading the way by:
- Utilizing telemedicine whenever appropriate
- Being able to communicate the benefits and reasons for using telemedicine to their peers
- Working with the telemedicine vendor to develop best practices and flows for their organization
If an organization adopts telemedicine without a provider champion, then this effectively means that the practice is relying on patients to be champions—to request telemedicine visits from providers or to start telemedicine visits on their own from a participating practice’s or vendor’s website. However, for patients to request a telemedicine visit, the patient must be informed and convinced that a virtual visit is a right path for them. And here we have a potential conflict—patients may be extremely willing and eager to use the clinic’s telemedicine offering, but the clinic staff may not inform them that such a service is available because they’re not sure if the patients want it.
Our recommendation is if a practice or healthcare system chooses to offer telemedicine, that they make sure to provide the patients with plenty of information regarding this service to make its availability well-known. For example, placing telemedicine brochures in the patient waiting area is a good start. We’ve seen plenty of patients, even some elderly patients, embrace telemedicine visits when offered the choice. Otherwise, without having either a strong provider drive or a patient education campaign, the practice will likely not reach a meaningful volume of telemedicine visits.
For private practices and organizations exploring using telemedicine, we recommend speaking to a medical provider who implemented telemedicine in their practice and can elaborate regarding the everyday benefits and challenges of their implementation. The top telemedicine software vendors should have a staff or consulting provider available to help assess the risks, organizational changes, and specific next steps needed to achieve a successful transition to a hybrid practice.
As part of the medical practice changeover process, employee job descriptions and expectations must be modified to be in line with the new business direction for the practice. For example, in addition to in-person patient satisfaction criteria, the practice will now need to consider the satisfaction of their online patients. We also recommend identifying or creating the role of a lead telemedicine staff member. This individual will have additional responsibilities, such as:
- Primary contact for scheduling telemedicine visits
- Ensuring that telemedicine visits are being processed quickly and efficiently through the workflow, and meeting patient expectations for turnaround time
- The first source of contact for patient questions and education
- Responsible for training new staff members joining the practice