5 Best Practices for Medical Telehealth Visits

Though COVID-19 has accelerated the use of telehealth visits in medicine, digital technology and virtual care were already headed in that direction. According to the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), 43% of health centers had telemedicine capabilities in 2019—before the pandemic even hit.

While clinicians adapted quickly using creativity and dedication, however, remote healthcare still presents significant challenges. Without a physical presence, subtle signs of illness or concern can be more easily missed. It’s also more difficult to strengthen the important relationship between practitioner and patient.

To help avoid these and other issues, here are five best practices to keep in mind when conducting telehealth visits.

  1. Adapt Your Bedside Manner

Making the transition from medical office to virtual environment can be difficult. For that reason, it’s vital to build trust with your patient by focusing specifically on adapting your bedside manner. Referred to as website manner in some circles, it stresses the importance of relationships based not solely on your location, but on your conversation. This includes listening to your patient, using humor where appropriate, asking questions, making observations and using shared history.

Fortunately, all these aspects are possible in telehealth visits. However, you also need to remember the importance of presentation. Dress the same way you would in person, even if you’re in your home. Use good lighting, camera angles and sound quality to maintain professionalism; patients often judge your credibility by your online presentation.

  1. Look Beyond the Patient

Telehealth visits give you an opportunity to see the patient’s home life—a rarity for most providers. This can help inform your decisions on treatment and care while allowing you to analyze broad factors that impact health, including social issues. For example, you can ask a patient in an office visit what they eat, but you can’t confirm the accuracy of their reply. In a telehealth visit, you can ask to glance at their fridge to see what’s in it.

You can also better pick up on mental health and overall wellbeing during telehealth visits. If you have to deliver difficult news in a telehealth visit, you can see the patient’s reaction and whether they’re using coping mechanisms (such as petting a cat or holding onto a comfort item). This gives you solid insight into their stress level, allowing you to decide whether to recommend mental health interventions.

  1. Take Advantage of Digital Therapeutic Tools

It’s true that you can’t easily do lab work for telehealth visits. However, they provide you with a great opportunity to leverage digital therapeutic tools, such as meters that monitor glucose levels or similar tools. Though you’ll have to carefully vet these devices for accuracy and regulation, they can make a big difference in your patients’ lives.

Reliable digital therapeutics allow your patients to check their own vitals and send the data to you automatically. This helps build their awareness of how daily life choices can impact their health issues. It also allows you to effectively reach less accessible or underserved patients as they monitor their health from home.

  1. Stay on Top of Telehealth Regulations

Telehealth visits are different from regular office consultations, with new/evolving regulations that can be confusing for your team. As an example, a physician typically had in-office consults with a patient who drove from a neighboring state. However, could the physician legally treat the patient virtually in their Delaware home?

Consultation length is another issue. One doctor mentioned that, after wrapping up a seven-minute virtual consultation, she learned she had to have at least eight minutes on the consult to bill within her state. Because she missed a single minute, the entire session cost was lost.

Keeping up with changing regulations is difficult. But it’s a necessary step to avoid these kinds of issues.

  1. Come Up With Resourceful Diagnosis Solutions

Despite the advantages of telehealth visits, it’s still difficult to perform some activities—like a cranial nerve exam or an eye exam—that would be routine in an office setting. However, many clinicians have developed clever solutions by using what’s available in the patient’s environment.

For example, you can ask the patient to get up and walk around to assess their gait. (If possible, make sure a companion is there to provide support in case of balance issues.) Check cranial nerves using something that smells strong (such as coffee or vinegar), a cold drink for sensation, or a flashlight to check visual acuity or pupil response. Consider these options and look at social media groups for new ideas.

As the pandemic subsides, telehealth consultations are almost certainly here to stay. So it’s important that medical professionals remain resourceful, creative and knowledgeable as the related technology and tools advance.

If you need assistance helping your accounting and finance department deal with difficult changes, please contact your healthcare CPAs.

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