Lessons Learned from Implementing Telehealth During a Pandemic

The healthcare industry responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 by deploying telehealth services in greater amounts than ever before. Medical practices offered new telehealth services to help keep patients safe while delivering high quality care. The changes were well received by patients from coast to coast. In fact, a June 2020 study revealed patients like using telehealth more than we may have thought

While implementing telehealth services during the pandemic, providers learned important lessons and best practices. For example, providers have used telehealth services to help reduce no-show appointments. By improving patient communications and implementing telehealth solutions, these providers are capturing and keeping new patients in the long-term. 

While not all services can be delivered using telehealth, many healthcare practices have and will continue to implement it successfully. For example, patient follow-ups, medical consultations and assessments for low-risk urgent care patients can be delivered using telehealth. These are also patient appointments that see high rates of cancellation or no-show. By offering telehealth services for follow-up care, providers can both improve patient health and reduce costly no-show appointments.

To do so effectively, however, providers must combine good patient communications with telehealth implementation. It’s important to communicate what services are now available via telehealth and make the processes of making and fulfilling appointments simple for patients. 

How to Prepare Patients for Telehealth Appointments 

Communicating effectively with patients before, during and after their first (and future) telehealth appointments will help ensure success. Here are a few things to tell them: 

    1. Pick your technology (phone, tablet, computer) and test it before the appointment. Make sure your telehealth tool is connected to the internet, has a working microphone and camera and that you’ve downloaded the application needed (or have the website address saved to connect to for the appointment).
    2. Find a quiet and secure location for the telehealth appointment, somewhere you won’t be interrupted, with an electrical outlet nearby and a place to hold/place your device or camera so your face is visible to the provider and your voice clear and loud. Test the location and technology together with a video chat to a friend or family member. 
  • Testing checklist
        1. Device – video and audio capability, applications downloaded in advance 
        2. Call Quality – internet connection speed fast enough for video calls, test audience can see and hear you
        3. Location – comfortable and quiet with no distractions 
        4. Help desk contact details – have them handy! 
  • Prepare required medical paperwork and submit in advance 
      1. Complete any paperwork from the provider and submit via email or online 
      2. Share your latest insurance card and coverage information 
      3. Understand the fee for the service and provide payment securely online or by phone
  • The day of the appointment 
      1. Test your video conferencing solution one last time the day of the appointment 
      2. Get online 5 to 10 minutes prior to your appointment to check-in to the ‘virtual waiting room’
      3. Save the helpline or contact phone number if needed 
  • Troubleshooting resources to share
    1. Application downloading and set-up
    2. How to test your telehealth set-up 
    3. Video or audio problems

In addition, providers can help create a smooth and positive telehealth experience by: 

  • Making it simple to access the telehealth appointment room (via a link, call-in number or other specific instructions)
  • Training your staff to assist patients and understand the technology themselves before implementing it.
  • Sending simple instructions in advance and reminder communications, including:
    • Appointment date/time
    • Preparation instructions
    • Pre-appointment paperwork requirements and where/how to submit 
    • How to get help 

Automated pre-appointment reminders help reduce no-shows and cancellations with minimal staff work. They should be simple and clear, and include: 

Sample reminder message: 

You have a telemedicine appointment with {doctor_name} at 4:00 pm on 4/30/2020.  Please use the following link https://meetinglink.com/doctor/ 

Personalizing Automated Patient Communications to Improve Response 

One of Vital Interaction’s automated patient communication features includes having your providers record messages that can be automatically sent to patients. Our experience shows that when patients receive a voice message from their own provider, they respond more often. In fact, we partnered with a national healthcare provider recently to test message effectiveness and found a 60% reduction in no-show appointments when patients received voice mail message reminders mentioning telehealth.

Telehealth Graph

Finally, ensure security is top of mind when implementing and using telehealth solutions. A strong focus on data security and protecting personally identifiable information is essential. Some of the HIPAA requirements that were softened to increase access to telehealth during the pandemic will be re-strengthened in the future. There are many ways to ensure the channels your practice is using comply, including ensuring a business associate contract is created. 

The Future Looks Bright for Telehealth Providers

Telehealth enables practices to reach more patients than ever before, including ones living in rural areas or with transportation difficulties, according to the American Medical Association. Telehealth can help providers increase revenues, add flexibility for patient care options and reach more patients in need. For example, patients who struggle to make appointments because they can’t afford to take time off from work, or live or work far away from the office will choose telehealth providers.

Vital Interaction has proudly helped practices transition to using telehealth more frequently, especially over the past year as we responded to COVID-19 challenges throughout the industry. Our automated features help providers communicate more effectively and frequently with patients, reducing no-shows and improving appointment reschedule rates. Reach out today to see how Vital Interaction can help you.

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