Tips To Successfully Transition To “Telehealth” In The Time Of COVID-19

April 7, 2020

The global pandemic has forced the medical community to adapt quickly to the changing environment and the need to evaluate and treat patients from afar.   So far it appears as if most have done so mostly with success.   But beware, we have only just begun and the cracks will begin to show.

Over the years of most practices have carefully created protocols and procedures to foster a productive environment among their clinicians as well as between the clinicians and patients. This forced, abrupt transition to telehealth, under the worst conditions, can erode all of those years’ work.   Especially when it comes to the modern healthcare practice or clinic, there are three areas that the leaders of these groups should stop and evaluate now that the shock of it all is beginning to wane.

  1. Internal office culture
  2. Clinician to patient culture
  3. The technical infrastructure that can facilitate or eventually erode both.

The good news is that the first two areas of focus: internal office culture & clinician to patient culture have very similar needs.   The solution to both of these is communicate, communicate, and communicate. Communication is even more critical in a remote environment because each conversation always includes more than words.   In many conversations within the clinic setting there are words, data, as well as emotion that need to be conveyed.   It can be very hard to have all of that come across successfully if a deliberate strategy was not employed when “turning on” your telehealth systems.   Here are some tips to help evaluate your current or future set up:

  • Deploy multiple tools for communication
    • Your practice may require a unique tool to communicate internally among clinicians versus with your patients.
  • Facilitate a clear feedback loop
    • Not only do you want to provide an avenue for people to communicate with you, they want to know that the message has been received.
  • Set clear guidelines on which communication tool should be used for what?
    • Your practice may have a telehealth module embedded in your EHR.   This may not be the best place to have electronic conversations that are intended to live outside of the record.
  • When communicating with patients, Video is king
    • Your patients are used to seeing your face and most importantly communicating their symptoms and progress in person.
    • Although, during the pandemic, many state regulations have either been waived or are being loosely enforced, you may need to record most of these video interactions.

Finally and not least importantly, be sure the infrastructure that your practice has in place can handle and facilitate these requirements at scale and with as few interruptions as possible.   You may already have a strong set up but you need to be sure.   One of the first steps to have a professional IT support staff.   They can test your system and set up without interrupting your day-to-day.   Equally critical is these IT professionals can help you make sound operational and financial hardware decisions.   They will be able to be responsive at a moments notice to help troubleshoot when the inevitable hiccup occurs.

Listed below are a few resources to help you make better decisions on your telehealth set up as it relates to culture and your infrastructure.

https://www.healthit.gov/sites/default/files/playbook/pdf/telehealth-startup-and-resource-guide.pdf

https://www.businessinsider.com/ceo-of-remote-company-5-ways-to-built-thriving-culture-2020-3

http://telehealthtechnology.org/

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