Most of my personal routines have changed during the pandemic. I have adapted to social distancing, embraced remote work and reevaluated my need to do everything in-person. In my opinion, nothing can replace the interpersonal experience of time spent with friends and family, vacations and other activities that have been put on hold. Well, other than weekly trips to the grocery store. Online ordering and curbside pick-up is one adaptation that I hope to never give up. Once I improve my speed-to-order, I may never need to spend an hour cruising the aisles at the grocery store again! Many patients may express similar feelings about the recent switch to virtual care.
Now, virtual care is replacing the need for long commutes, parking headaches and waiting room delays required to review labs and chronic disease management or check the boxes for another year’s worth of refills. While not appropriate for all visits, many providers are also re-examining their convictions that a face-to-face, high-touch approach is essential for all types of visits.
“Virtual Care” is one of those terms that can mean many things to many people, like eating sweets “in moderation” or getting “adequate” sleep. Everything from secure texts, phone calls and videoconferencing to remote patient kiosks, ICU monitoring and in-home dialysis systems fits under the umbrella of virtual care or telehealth.
Many organizations have dramatically expanded their virtual care offerings during preparation for COVID-related surges. This came coupled with incredible levels of utilization from patients eager to avoid traveling to a hospital or clinic setting. Questions still remain on the status of government regulations and private payor policies moving forward, but patients will continue to demand these services long after COVID-19 has been neutralized.
A Comprehensive Plan
As we begin reconciling our current operating policies with historical operations and future strategic goals, it’s critical to develop a comprehensive plan for integrating virtual care into operations. Here are some areas healthcare organizations must consider when creating a plan to fit the needs of their team and patients:
- Communicate a consistent message and strategy across the organization.
- Ensure population health initiatives, risk sharing agreements and community outreach programs are considered.
- Involve support staff. Virtual Care does not remove the need for clinician assistance with scheduling, registration, billing and copay collection.
- Evaluate infrastructure requirements. Adequate hardware and network connectivity capabilities are critical whether clinicians are using a mobile phone at home or a telemedicine cart in the office.
- Integrate clinical documentation efficiently. Support within the EMR is critical for ensuring documentation standards are met.
- Train clinicians on equipment, software and workflows being utilized. This must include guidance on integrating virtual delivery into their daily workflows.
Government and Payor Requirements
CMS granted an emergency waiver during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis that paved the way for many organizations to rapidly expand their telehealth programs. The temporary nature of this waiver, additional state-specific waivers and a variety of reimbursement requirements for private payors have left many organizations unsure of the future status of their telehealth programs. This is in direct conflict with the desires of many of their patients to continue and even expand the virtual care options offered. Thankfully, CMS, state and federal legislators are working to provide clarification on the future of telehealth.
A comprehensive virtual care strategy is an integral component of any effective COVID-19 response strategy and patient engagement plans for the future. Proper planning is essential to meet patient and clinician satisfaction, regulatory, compliance and payor requirements. If you’re looking for help getting there, contact our team to learn more!