Due to the cancellation of non-urgent appointments and precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many healthcare practices are experiencing workflow disruption and reduced patient volume. Since in-person appointments put your providers and patients at risk of unnecessary exposure to COVID-19, telemedicine offers many specialties an outstanding option to mitigate the business impact of and still ensure patient safety. Here are several key considerations we suggest to leverage telehealth and technology, with the end goals being to maintain your workflow, revenue stream, and staff/patient wellbeing:
Know that Regulations have Temporarily Changed due to COVID-19
Medicare has temporarily expanded its coverage of telehealth services in response to COVID-19. Specifically, “under this new  waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country and including in patients’ places of residence starting March 6, 2020.” This means that “established Medicare patients may have non-face-to-face patient-initiated communications with their doctors without going to the doctor’s office by using online patient portals.” In addition, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced that they will waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers that serve patients in good faith through everyday communications technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.
Supplement your Typical Workflows with Electronic Communication
We suggest ensuring your practice has robust digital (online) appointment scheduling, pre-visit paperwork, and online payment functionality. These options are even available to practices without their own website! Whether patients are preparing for an in-person visit or a virtual visit, these features will, at a minimum, allow your patients to spend less time face-to-face with your staff, and potentially conduct their entire visit, from scheduling to payment, outside of your facility. For example, PCG online forms allow patients to securely upload copies of their insurance card and complete all pre-visit paperwork, without the challenge of logging into a portal. Online payment functionality and electronic payment reminders can also help your practice continue collecting on any past-due payments during this time when you might not see patients in your office.
Reach out to Those Most at Risk
Consider sending out a special educational email to your patients who are most at-risk—seniors and those with certain preexisting conditions—letting them know you are thinking of them and that you have special telemedicine and digital tools in place to support them.
Choose the Level of Telemedicine Service Best for Your Practice
Telemedicine visits can be implemented in many forms, ranging from chatbots and secure messaging with providers to live video visits or online screening/triaging of patients. Fortunately, most telehealth platforms are intuitive and can be implemented quickly with little training. PCG secure messaging is as easy as regular texting and can easily be used as a first line of communication before scheduling a full televisit.
In summary, by increasing your electronic communication and leveraging telemedicine, you can maintain your current workflow, keep your staff and providers safe, and still provide quality care to your patients, keeping them safe as well. The best first steps are to educate yourself on the new telemedicine regulations, make a plan to transition your current pre- and post-visit workflows to an online process, reach out to your most at-risk patients about using your electronic tools and telemedicine options, and select a telemedicine solution that works for your practice’s needs at this time. By taking these extra precautionary measures, your practice can help stem the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining business continuity.