Over the last year, many clients have reported satisfaction and acceptance of telehealth and teletherapy as a convenient way to receive care from the privacy of their own homes. Providers also find virtual care to be an effective and cost-efficient way to provide clients access to care. In the future, many clients and patients, as well as providers, can expect to make telehealth or teletherapy a part of their healthcare experience.
Virtual Care is More Than Just Online Sessions
Virtual care, however, reaches beyond doing online sessions. Providing virtual care includes many more efficiencies and cost-saving benefits for providers who seek to make it a permanent part of their practice. For example, numerous time-consuming transactions, traditionally done by providers and /or their office staff, can be done electronically, making service delivery much more efficient and effective for both the provider and the client or patient.
Electronic Tools Enhance Online Doctor Visits or Teletherapy
Utilizing electronic tools can improve client and patient engagement, information sharing, client education, and timely after-visit connection with their virtual doctor or teletherapy providers. Here are some examples of virtual tools that can enhance the healthcare experience:
- SMS text message reminders of appointments which help reduce client no show rates (see HIPAA Compliant Texting)
- Electronic, touchless pre-registration and completion of forms at home via the client’s computer or smartphone increasing client compliance and convenience
- Messages after the appointment to remind patients of follow up activities
- Online access to test results via client portals
- Virtual whiteboards
- Electronic sharing of psychoeducation or other resources
- Online scheduling (see HIPAA Compliant Appointment Scheduling)
Some of these tools are still relatively unknown to many providers, yet their usefulness is not to be minimized. For example, consider the virtual whiteboard, which is a digital tool that typically is available on advanced videoconferencing systems. The virtual whiteboard feature allows the practitioner to share a “white space” with the client or patient, a space where both parties can use a mouse to add words or marks to create a visual aid that illustrates points being made in the discussion. This feature can aid a clinical discussion by serving the same function as a dry-erase whiteboard might serve in a brick-and-mortar office. When using a digital whiteboard, either party is able to make marks on the shared screen, inside the videoconferencing platform.
One-Stop Shopping Offered By Virtual Vendors
Many providers scurried to find online platforms to continue service delivery via telehealth at the beginning of the pandemic while doing other administrative tasks “by hand” or using other electronic services provided by different vendors. A year later, numerous online services provide just about any practice function a clinician needs in one virtual platform: online registration, billing, scheduling, appointment reminders, electronic record keeping, payment collection, etc. For a list of such vendors, you may want to look at Telehealth.org’s Buyer’s Guide. In addition, it is important for healthcare providers in the United States to be sure to obtain a business associates agreement (BAA) and only select virtual office equipment that is HIPAA compliant, two necessary conditions clinicians must seek in any online vendor. For more current information about basic HIPAA requirements to consider when setting up a virtual care office for online doctor visits, teletherapy or to obtain other telehealth services.
- Basic HIPAA FAQs: Easy HIPAA Facts that You Need to Know
- HIPAA: Permitted Uses and Disclosure of Protected Health Information
- What Are HIPAA Audit Requirements?
Building a Virtual Care Strategy a Step at a Time
Although clinicians had to dive headfirst into telehealth and teletherapy to keep services available to clients at the beginning of the pandemic, a step-by-step approach to integrating other electronic options into their practices may be a wise way to create a long-term virtual strategy that improves both workflow efficiencies and client care. Electronic solutions to replace person-driven tasks can save time that can be utilized for more contact with clients or patients. To avoid overwhelm, it is suggested that clinicians plan to learn not only the functionality of one technology at a time but to accompany that technical training with clinical telehealth training so they can be equipped for the many hidden clinical, legal, and ethical challenges that can easily arise when venturing into these new waters with a client or patient who requires careful attention.
For clinicians who are considering a combination of in-person and virtual care strategies moving forward, more information on a hybrid model of client care is available. For instance, see Hybrid Healthcare System: Establishing a Post-Pandemic Telehealth.
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