Telehealth appointments – billable video conferencing or phone remote visits with patients – became all the rage during the pandemic due to their necessity and utility. Patients embraced and continue to favor this care delivery method. A recent Software Advice poll showed 62% of patients believe telehealth visits are beneficial and prefer them to in-office appointments whenever possible. The study also found 92% of patients are more likely to choose a practice that offers telemedicine over one that doesn’t.
But telehealth hasn’t only been popular with patients. It remains an appealing tool for practices and specialties as a cost-effective way to access and treat more patients. The average practice cost of an in-office visit is $146 compared to $79 for a telehealth appointment. Likewise, the average provider time spent with a patient during an office visit is 20 minutes versus 16 minutes for virtual visits.
Meanwhile, Congress continues to pave the way for telehealth to become a permanent fixture in healthcare. Several iterations of the Consolidated Appropriations Act have extended the flexibility waivers for Medicare billing and reimbursement for telehealth, the latest of which runs through December of 2024.
So, how exactly do you build a sustainable telehealth practice? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of offering telehealth services to patients and some of the factors you’ll want to consider as you develop and implement telehealth as an integral part of your practice management and business strategy.
What are the pros and cons of telehealth patient care?
Like any care delivery method, telehealth isn’t all roses. But for most practices, the pros of offering telehealth options to patients plainly outweigh the cons. If your practice isn’t offering telehealth appointments, your competitors likely are, which gives them a competitive advantage when it comes to patient retention and acquisition.
- Telehealth gives rural patients or those with transportation or other barriers better access to high-quality and specialized healthcare.
- Patient experience improves due to the convenience factor of being able to participate in an appointment remotely from home or anywhere.
- Telehealth, or a combination of face-to-face and telehealth appointments called hybrid care, can improve patient outcomes.
- It can be difficult to build rapport with a patient (particularly new patients) in an entirely online relationship.
- Some telehealth software and hardware can be technically challenging for patients, providers, and staff.
- Telehealth visits obviously aren’t conducive to some appointment types, such as physical exams, preventive screenings, and other treatment that requires an in-person visit.
Of course, the very nature of some healthcare practice types and specialties requires patients’ physical presence for care and treatment. But even dental and vision practices, for example, can offer consultations, some follow-up visits, and check-ins via telehealth appointments. Telehealth also makes care more equitable and accessible since 97% of Americans own a cellphone of some kind, including those in medically underserved communities.
How can I build a sustainable telehealth practice?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) outlines essential areas to consider when integrating telehealth into your practice or pivoting your practice operations to deliver care primarily through telemedicine. You’ll want to factor in each of these when developing and implementing virtual care as a part of a financially sound and stable business model.
1. Staff roles and preparation
Determine what roles and responsibilities staff will have for day-to-day telehealth operations, how these assignments will impact your telehealth appointment workflow, and if you’ll need a dedicated telehealth team. You’ll also want to designate who will manage administrative issues, calendar training for staff for technology familiarization, and set up a feedback reporting framework to improve and streamline operations.
2. Review legal and licensing requirements
Be sure to loop in practice stakeholders and management on licensing and other state laws, including Medicaid coverage for telehealth. You’ll also need to confirm which billable Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes apply, compare the reimbursement rate with in-office rates, and check state licensing to see if you can conduct telehealth visits across state lines. Also, find out if your malpractice insurer covers telehealth or if you need to buy supplemental coverage.
3. Evaluate telehealth technology
Patients quickly get frustrated using telehealth technology that is overly complex and confusing. Make sure the solution you choose is both reliable and easily accessible to patients’ needs. Can candidate products be readily integrated into your practice’s existing software? Will the software’s technical requirements minimally impact your day-to-day operations?
Find out what the patient experience will be like using various vendor tools and specifically what software or equipment you need to ensure your telehealth is patient-friendly. The right telehealth tool can help you minimize your practice’s tech stack, send pre-visit access instructions to patients, and be simple to use for patients, providers, and staff.
4. Redesign/realign your workflow
Every practice has its own unique approach to the appointment workflow. Learn how telehealth visits will impact your daily workflow. Determine if you’ll need to create a new workflow for virtual care visits or if you can easily customize your existing process to create a universal workflow that works well for both telehealth and in-office appointments. You’ll also want to educate your patients about their telehealth options, which appointment types are available via telehealth, how to easily book a telehealth visit online, and how to quickly get technical assistance during a call.
5. Work with patients
For telehealth to be successful for your practice, you need to assure that patients are having a satisfactory experience. The more you can help patients feel comfortable using telehealth, the greater your ability to strengthen patient relationships, boost telehealth appointment volume, and get more referrals. You can achieve these aims by connecting with patients at every step in the telehealth appointment workflow:
- Recall notices for patients to book telehealth visits for preventive and chronic care
- Online appointment scheduling to book telehealth visits on their smartphone
- Reminders sent at a proven cadence to ensure patients keep their appointment
- Digital intake to gather patient information and insurance prior to the visit
- Pre-visit text instructions and a virtual practice “waiting room”
- Post-visit care instructions and follow-up care reminders
- Review invitations for patients to leave your practice an online review
- Post-appointment surveys to assess patient satisfaction and improve their experience
- Patient newsletters to keep patients informed about services and care available via telehealth
6. Evaluate and Refine
Finally, don’t forget to measure your telehealth appointments’ performance through a variety of methods. These might include patient feedback on post-appointment surveys, online reviews and practice ratings, and NPS Scores. You can also get a good handle on patient comfortability with telehealth by keeping track of the minutes it takes for patients to connect and the total number of visit drop-offs due to technical difficulties. Last but not least, calculate your average cost per visit (and compare it to an in-office visit), estimate patient mileage and travel cost savings from a comparable in-office appointment, and chart changes to your no-show rate.
Telehealth can be a powerful tool to extend care to your patients in the comfort of their own homes. It can help you overcome patient access barriers of distance and travel costs, reach more patients for timely follow-up care, and create cost savings and efficiencies for your practice. But do your homework first so you can build a telehealth practice that is stable, sustainable, and profitable. An all-in-one patient communications platform can help you easily connect with patients for virtual care visits to more effectively guide them through every step of the patient journey.
To learn more on how you can create a single multi-purpose appointment workflow to connect better with patients for telehealth and face-to-face visits, download the guide, “The Perfect Appointment Workflow: A Path to Improved Patient Outcomes and Increased Revenue.”
Read the Guide