Lessons Learned: Deploying Telehealth in a Crisis

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The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated telehealth’s implementation throughout the healthcare industry and permanently affected health care delivery. Early in the pandemic, primary care physicians saw a drop of in-office visits with their patients by 20 percent or more

With stay-at-home orders in effect, patients delayed care and postponed wellness visits. However, virtual visits helped physicians continue to see their patients and carefully monitor those who were chronically ill, helping to prevent visits to hospitals.

Independent physicians were expected to implement telehealth and learn the technology in a short span of time. In a recent podcast with Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), Maureen Clancy, Senior Vice President of Operations, and Keith Fernandez, MD, Chief Clinical Officer, discussed their top three tips for effectively scaling telehealth across a physician network.

Tip #1: Engage Physicians

It is not always evident how to best engage physicians. Dr. Fernandez suggests that the answer is actually quite simple. A physician’s number one priority is the health of their patients. The best way to engage physicians in learning the technology is to show how technology will help achieve the best end result for their patients.

Additionally, it is critical to empower physicians with data and knowledge so they can work on implementing the best office protocol. Being part of an organization that brings physicians together facilitates their ability to optimize their practices for the pandemic. Physician leadership and governance in a medical group are critical for success in a crisis.

Tip #2: Constant Communication

Communication is a key element of any relationship, especially during a crisis. After engaging physicians to collaborate, it is critical to prioritize communication that can disseminate information quickly or in real-time. Some excellent methods are:

  • Virtual town halls. Meet with physicians often to keep them updated on changes to the platform and how the crisis will affect them. It is important that healthcare professionals understand  all aspects of the crisis and how it will affect their practices.
  • Form a physician leadership team. Designate a team of physicians to be responsible for verifying information and answering questions.
  • Form a care team. Create a team of care advisors and nurse care advisors that can answer questions for physicians and walk patients on how to use the virtual visit technology. Having this team available will take the load off physicians and help create a seamless experience for the patient.

Tip #3: Be Prepared to Switch Roles

For rapid deployment of new technology, healthcare professionals may find that they need their staff to assume new roles or responsibilities. For example, the marketing team may need to film how-to videos and create instructional presentations for physicians. The health technology team may need to be available to answer physician inquiries about virtual visits.

To reduce confusion, an agile team that can change roles and responsibilities quickly may be beneficial. Finally, to proactively engage physicians and provide additional support, Maureen Clancy suggests setting up and monitoring virtual visit key performance indicators (KPIs) to see which specialties have been impacted the most by the pandemic. This way, staff can provide additional assistance for those physicians.

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has spurred innovation in the healthcare industry by cementing telehealth’s importance in the industry. With the right tools, talent, and technology, physician networks cand rapidly scale technology to overcome some of the biggest challenges facing physicians and help improve their patients’ care.

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