Making the decision to adopt telemedicine into your practice is a big step. Now that you've expressed an interest and committed to making telemedicine a reality, the next thing you're wondering is likely, "What's next?"
You may be tempted to run straight to your IT department to take the reins on your telemedicine integration efforts. While having adequate IT support is important to the overall success of your telemedicine program, there are many more considerations that you should take into account early on and weave into your launch plans. Here are some questions to consider that extend beyond the realm of IT.
The new technology and services your practice will be able to offer thanks to telemedicine will allow your physicians to act more efficiently and across a broader area than they were previously able. But this new technology can also greatly impact more administrative aspects of your practice, especially when it comes to patient procedures.
In all likelihood your practice has already taken steps in this direction over the past few years. Online programs and Web-based management of things like prescription refills and visit schedules are implemented by many clinics, even those that don't use more advanced telemedicine technology. But the wider availability of specialists, records and services afforded by this technology means that you should ensure that your doctors and your patients alike are prepared for the changes.
"The hurdle is to integrate telemedicine into your practice: when to see patients, scheduling, guidelines for patients on how to use telemedicine," Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, told Medical Economics. "These are operational issues, not really technological ones. Doctors need to think about how to fit telemedicine into their daily schedules."
"Doctors need to think about how to fit telemedicine into their daily schedules."
Installing new technology and equipment is just one component. You also need to ensure that your practitioners understand the additional value these new tools offer them as well as how to effectively use them so they fit seamlessly into your existing workflow. Don't overlook the importance of training and finding some user champions at the early stages of your telemedicine integration.
Implemented correctly, telemedicine technology isn't complicated for doctors, nurses or clinicians to use. Many training programs focus not just on equipment operation, but also on the patient workflow so you can think through how you want to weave telemedicine consults into an existing patient care process. There are considerations for you to take into account - for example, do you want all of your clinicians, nurses or physicians to be trained right from the start or do you begin with a select group of "super users" first? Some programs also start off using telemedicine to provide one or two specialty services, and then expand to offer multiple specialties once they see how easy it is.
Many colleges and universities offer training courses in telemedicine integration, meaning all you have to do is find a nearby accredited program. The American Telemedicine Association also provides online training resources, as well as information on upcoming in-person training seminars.
Protecting patient confidentiality is a crucial concern when implementing telemedicine.
Privacy and legal concerns
As all healthcare professionals and patients know, the medical profession is governed by a series of stringent regulations regarding patient privacy and doctor accountability. So how does this affect telemedicine? Knowing how telemedicine changes or affects these industry-standard policies is crucial for success.
One of the most important and immediate factors you must consider is patient confidentiality. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act places strict guidelines on protecting sensitive information gathered from patients. HIPAA concerns, combined with recent emphasis on increased cybersecurity, means that this will be a driving factor in developing your telemedicine solution. Make sure your network, and especially any videoconference data, is secure to avoid any potential HIPAA compliance issues.
Similarly, insurance is an issue that may arise if your clinicians are using telemedicine to treat patients across state lines. Doctors who are covered by malpractice insurance in a given state, for example, may not have the same coverage if the patient they're seeing is in a different state. Before implementing telemedicine on a wide scale, check with your insurance providers to verify coverage status for your telemedicine physicians.
Visit www.amdtelemedicine.com to learn how you can begin thinking about your own custom telemedicine solution.