In the wake of COVID-19, in-person visits to medical practices are 30% lower than they were before the pandemic. It’s no surprise then that healthcare providers across the country have turned to telemedicine as a way to offer patient care and recover lost revenue.
While there is still a lot of uncertainty around what the future holds for your practice, the way you conduct outpatient care post-crisis will be very different from pre-crisis. In fact, we expect telemedicine to be a normal part of business going forward — which is why you should consider a long-term telemedicine solution that can scale with your practice as it gets back on track.
In this post, we’re going to show you exactly how to do that. We’ll cover:
- The pros and cons of using video-conferencing platforms like Zoom for telemedicine
- How to stay compliant and get paid for virtual care
- How to digitize patient workflows to create a modern, post-crisis care experience
- … and more
Using Zoom for Telemedicine: A Good or Bad Idea?
We’ve heard anecdotally that, at the beginning of this crisis, many health practitioners scrambled to launch some kind of telehealth option for their patients — with many choosing consumer-based video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, even FaceTime.
While these are great short-term options, they really only cover one piece of your workflow: “seeing” your patient. You still have to manage all the administrative aspects, including appointment reminders and prep instructions, insurance and intake forms, notes and EHR updates, follow-up care, etc.
And then, of course, there’s compliance. In general, HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules should apply to virtual care just as they do for in-person care. While Zoom offers a HIPAA-compliant plan, not all video-conferencing apps do. You won’t be penalized for using non-compliant technology during the COVID-19 crisis, but you should consider a solution now that will work for your business long after the crisis is over. That way, you’ll never have to worry about compromising or exposing your patients’ protected health information. Plus, you won’t have to stress about having to rush the implementation of a new system once HIPPA requirements are back in place, which experts believe will happen after the pandemic has subsided.
Of course, federal laws such as HIPAA are not the only legal requirements you need to consider when it comes to telemedicine. How compliance, licensing, and policy factor into telemedicine varies state by state.
The American Medical Association offers a helpful summary of pandemic-specific policy and coding as well as how each state is responding to the pandemic. Many states are loosening restrictions on where a member or provider is located, whether there is an existing patient-provider relationship prior to a telemedicine visit, and what services will be covered — in fact, some states have expanded telemedicine coverage to include behavior analysis, therapy, behavioral health, and early intervention. For real-time updates on restrictions and/or allowances for your practice, contact your state’s department of health and/or medical association directly.
Telemedicine Reimbursement & Payment Models
Payment is still a big question for telemedicine — and one that continues to evolve.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine was primarily used for people in rural and/or underserved areas. However, in light of this public health emergency, the federal government has eased restrictions on who can provide — and be reimbursed for — telehealth services. Insurance companies and state governments are also following suit.
For now, medical practices are getting reimbursements for telemedicine technology and virtual care as follows:
- Medicare: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) lifted their telehealth restrictions and are now paying for Medicare telehealth services allowed by State law. According to CMS, these visits are considered the same as in-person visits and will be paid for as such.
- Private Insurance: Some states have required that private insurance companies reimburse for telehealth services, and some insurance companies are offering reimbursement regardless of state guidelines. Our recommendation is to ask your insurers directly about how they’re handling telemedicine — and, if they are paying, find out how you should code a virtual visit. In the meantime, here is a look at how health insurance providers are responding to the crisis.
- Self-Pay by Patients: You could consider a direct-to-consumer payment model where patients pay a fee to access your telehealth services, be they real-time synchronous video visits, asynchronous messaging, or both.
The policy and payment landscape for telemedicine is complex and ever-changing. After this crisis, telemedicine will likely look different than it does right now — but we predict that CMS, state governments, and private insurance companies will establish less restrictive telemedicine guidelines for post-pandemic care. Even CMS Administrator Seema Verma agrees that the “genie’s out of the bottle” on telehealth. She says, “I think it’s fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, that it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier, but there's absolutely no going back.”
For more information about how telemedicine, payment, and policy work in the time of COVID-19, check out our telemedicine FAQs.
Digital Patient Workflows, Telemedicine & Contactless Care
Patient care is going to look very different post-pandemic. In addition to long-term adoption of telemedicine, we expect medical practices to offer some form of contactless patient care as well. How you bridge contactless, in-person visits with your telemedicine offering will require you to set up workflows that, well, work together.
One way to do this is by digitizing patient workflows so you can create a consistent, seamless experience for them AND less work for you and your staff. This involves collecting paperwork and insurance digitally, automating appointment reminders and instructions via text, and more. Let’s take a look at an example:
- A patient books a virtual visit with you online.
- You collect their insurance information and other necessary intake forms digitally, automate text reminders and send any necessary appointment instructions, then conduct an evaluation via video. You determine that they need a procedure or test in-person.
- After the video visit, you text them a link where they can schedule their in-person appointment, then automate the reminders, prep instructions, and any follow-up check-ins for that visit. You won’t need to re-collect insurance for the in-person appointment, but you can automate a request to sign a digital consent form for the procedure or complete a COVID-19 screening assessment.
- You store all relevant patient information in the same place, regardless of how their visits are conducted — and remain HIPAA-compliant at every single touch-point. All of this is done using one system, and you never require your patients to download an app or log in to a portal.
Notice this scenario doesn’t involve picking up a phone and playing a seemingly never-ending and time-consuming game of phone tag with your patients. Sounds too good to be true, right? It’s not — and we’re going to tell you how to get all of this in the next and final section.
Your All-in-One Solution for Long-Term Telemedicine In A Post-Pandemic World
Patients want convenience. A recent study of 2,000 adults in the U.S. found that 42% have used telehealth since the pandemic started. Convenience plays a major role in why they opted for telehealth now — and whether they’ll use it in the future.
In fact, 65% said they used telemedicine because of the convenience factor, 51% would continue using it post-crisis because it is convenient, and 26% would prefer to not have to download an app or program to benefit from virtual care.
Klara allows medical professionals like you to deliver this exact convenience to your patients. With Klara, you can care for your patients no matter where they are, communicate with them via HIPAA-compliant text messaging, offer seamless telemedicine solutions, and digitize patient workflows for insurance intake, appointment reminders, no-show engagement, and more — all with no patient login or downloads required. You’ll be able to more effectively grow your practice and meet the needs of all your patients long after this crisis is behind us.
At the end of the day, telemedicine not only protects patients, care teams, and front office staff from infections like COVID-19, but it can also help you streamline patient care, see more patients than usual, and reduce paperwork and other administrative tasks. To learn more about how Klara can do this for your practice, visit www.klara.com.