As medical practices re-open across the U.S., many are following detailed, phased reopening plans that incorporate careful consideration of in-house versus telemedicine service offerings, and the safety of providers, staff, and patients alike. MGMA provided this helpful checklist regarding all of the considerations to make when reopening in regard to safety, finance, operations, and human resource management. One thing is clear: COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on the way medical practices operate; one of the largest gaps is the need for more digital tools to support telemedicine. Our top re-opening tip? Get your digital front-door in order!
What is a “Digital Front-Door?”
Your “digital front door” is your practice’s electronic presence and the digital communication tools within your workflow. Increasingly, it’s becoming a vital part of your patient’s overall experience with your practice. It includes every electronic “touch” you have with your patients, from your website and text messages to your virtual waiting room and automated appointment notifications.
Why Optimize your Digital Front-Door?
Demand for Telehealth is Rising, Fast: If your first launch of telemedicine was a little rocky, you are not alone. The growth in telemedicine is staggering and its happening at break-neck speeds. For example, one NYU Health Facility saw virtual visits grow by 4,435% between March 2nd and April 14th, and similar trends are seen throughout the country. Patients are looking to medical practices for clear guidance and a seamless digital workflow.
Virtual Care is a Financial Necessity: At the onset of COVID, many practices had to furlough employees as appointment cancellations rolled in. However, practices have the opportunity to provide virtual care through phone calls, emails, chat bots, text messages, and video calls. Due to recent demand, payers have relaxed restrictions and made it easier to bill for telemedicine services. Payers are seeing value in this model and are standardizing the billing model to fit the needs of the pandemic and beyond.
Patients Appreciate the Convenience: Increasingly, patients are accepting telehealth. In some cases, providers find that patients are more comfortable with a virtual visit than they are in the exam room. During a virtual visit, patients share information about their home life or circumstances in a more intimate way. Even a partial telehealth experience (phone call vs. video call) can lead to an improvement inpatient satisfaction.
“My patients see telemedicine services as an advantageous and convenient way to access quality medical care that supplements the practice of medical visits. They also welcome the cut down of medical expenses for them and it extends access to consults from specialists.” says Jose Orellana, MD from Lee Health Physicians Group.
Telemedicine also makes the tasks surrounding in-person visits more convenient—from appointment reminders and intake forms to pre-and post-appointment care instructions. It also helps providers virtually treat patients for minor urgent care issues such as UTIs, rashes, headaches, etc., which helps lower wait times and keeps patients out of ERs and Urgent Care centers.
It Will Streamline your Payment Collections: Many practices still have a collections process that is based on in-person encounters and payments. It is imperative from a business and patient care standpoint that practices remove payment barriers as much as possible and shift to flexible billing that incorporates online options. By offering an online-accessible, personalized patient financial experience, a practice can help patients meet their obligations and increase timely payments. Features such flexible payment options and personalized payment plans along with clear communication to patients regarding their financial responsibility can help set the expectations for the patient and improve their relationship with the practice.
Increase Care Access in Rural Areas: Telehealth offers the option for rural patients to have access to providers in urban areas that they would not otherwise have the ability to access. The FCC has established programs to close the gap between rural patients and healthcare providers by ensuring providers have the resources and flexibility they need to promote telehealth solutions. The FCC has also called for other agencies to also adopt support for telemedicine and advised that they work towards reducing state licensing restrictions and reimbursement barriers. If this effort continues to grow, telehealth will become increasingly common across state lines.
As your practice reopens, ensuring your telemedicine program is supported by a strong digital workflow will help you meet patient demand, bolster the financial health of your medical practice, improve patient experience, streamline patient billing, and improve care access for rural patients. Be sure this effort is on your agenda for re-opening Phase I!