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Tips for a Successful Telehealth Service Line

Posted by James Baker, Chief Medical Officer | November 23, 2018 |
James Baker, Chief Medical Officer

Any telehealth strategy is shaped with the goal of making things better for a practice and their patients. The typical outcomes of improved patient outcomes and experience, as well as lowered costs, can all be achieved by starting with a strategic approach toward building a new service line.

This strategy for a successful telehealth service starts with an understanding of the basic value proposition that technology can improve the lives of our patients and doctors. But how we leverage the technology, including how we roll it out, will facilitate the success of the telehealth initiative. This article looks at some tips we’ve learned for improving the launch of a new telehealth service line. How can you overcome the obstacles of patient or physician fear of change? How does reimbursement work? What training should occur?

Let’s take a look.

Change Management and the Telehealth Launch

Launching any new service line requires a candid analysis of the obstacles. This includes internal reluctance to adapt to change. If you’ve been through the introduction of a new practice management or EHR platform, you’ll understand how tricky the process of staff and physician buy-in can be. In fact, we might suggest that the difficulties inherent in implementing an EMR could sour our ability to create change around the adoption of new technologies. We all know that one bad experience can color the future in ways that make us reluctant to “try it again.”

That’s why the first step toward change management when trying to adopt any new technology is to address the problems that the hardware or software is trying to solve. In the case of telehealth, clinical research shows that the virtual visit:

  • Improves access to care.
  • Reduces practice overhead.
  • Improves patient quality and safety.
  • Increases patient satisfaction.

Part of the problem with EMR technology was that the government’s mandate did not fully define (nor realize on the ground) how it would help improve the lives of patients and doctors.

But telehealth is an elective tool that will become increasingly important as systemic pressures such as rising costs, an influx of baby boomers, and physician shortages mount in the coming years. Too, telemedicine applications are very easy to use for both the patient and doctor, typically requiring very little training to optimize.

Engaging your team in a discussion of how telehealth can help, not hinder, the doctor/patient relationship is an important first step toward the launch of a successful program.

What to Know About Reimbursement

Just as important as staff buy-in, understanding telehealth reimbursement is a clear imperative before rolling out the service.

What we know, first and foremost, about telehealth, is that reimbursement is increasing at all levels. In 2017, there were 210 legislative initiatives launched that were designed to improve telehealth reimbursement. In 2018 we’ve seen:

  • The Physician Fee Schedule from CMS adding or changing eight new codes for telemedicine. Click here to see those additions.
  • CMS unbundled reimbursement for health data generated by a remote visit.
  • MACRA MIPS expanded to allow ACI points when using telehealth for remote patient monitoring, patient education, and even a patient history review.
  • Medicare Advantage is expanding to include telehealth beyond Part B.
  • ACOs are expanding telehealth coverage by loosening the restrictions on eligible originating sites.

Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia offer expanded reimbursement under Medicaid that equal or outpace Medicare. Importantly, most private payers now offer telehealth reimbursement.

While there are workflow changes that must be adopted to seek telehealth reimbursement, the first step must be to understand what the current federal and state rules are pertaining to the service. OrthoLive can help you with this process.

Preparing to Launch

A crucial question to ask the practice is what types of services will you offer under the telehealth service line? A virtual visit isn’t appropriate for every encounter; some practices choose to only market the service for specific healthcare needs or just to an established patient population, for example.

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Marketing 101 suggests that considering the patient perspective will help you craft the most important messages to deploy a telehealth service offering. When crafting a message, put yourself in the patient’s shoes, and answer the following questions:

  • What are the benefits of telehealth?
  • How hard will it be to use?
  • When should I use the service?
  • What problems will the technology solve?

Next, discuss how you will market the service line to your customers. Consider two things during this process:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What is the best way to reach them?

If your target audience is an existing patient base and telehealth will be used for a very specific service such as an orthopedic post-surgical recheck, the marketing approach would be very different from a new patient with a workers compensation claim.

Some general tips for marketing your telehealth practice include:

  • Use as many low-cost strategies to launch your practice; including signage at your offices, service sheets attached to patient history forms, in your practice newsletter, and email and text.
  • Teach your team and clinicians to discuss the new service with the target audience as part of the patient encounter.
  • Be clear about how patients will make these appointments. Scheduling is typically done in the same way that all appointments are made.

Once you have staff buy-in, the team understands the changes in workflows to launch a new telehealth venture, and a marketing plan has been established, the selection of a telehealth vendor can finally begin.

We recommend conducting a needs assessment as part of your telehealth selection process. This systematic undertaking will help you vet telemedicine vendors more effectively. You will already understand the target population and how telehealth will improve your interactions with them. Make sure to develop a roadmap for your existing workflows and how they will change when adopting the technology. Some additional questions include:

  • How can telehealth piggyback on existing workflows?
  • What are your goals and success metrics for introducing this technology?
  • Set a timeline for a periodic revisit of these goals in order to improve the service over time. How will you collect data and monitor the performance of the application?
  • Will you conduct regular patient satisfaction surveys to improve the service offering?

OrthoLive can help your team launch an orthopedic telemedicine service line. Contact us to start the process today.

Topics: "telehealth", "telemedicine", e-health, healthcare, marketing

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