It’s Time to Make Telemedicine A Permanent Part of Your Practice. Here’s How.

It’s no great secret: the medical community has not generally loved telemedicine. 

The resistance mostly stems from the way we’re trained: that the best care comes from being right there with your patient, able to look them in the eye, to be hands on with the body. It stems from a largely unfounded fear that if we choose a telehealth model, we’ll miss something vital without being in close proximity. It also stems from practicality: physicians have not been incentivized to embrace the model.

The pandemic, of course, has proven just how wrong we were. Out of sheer necessity, and in a matter of days and weeks, telemedicine became the health system’s new normal in the midst of this public health crisis. As practices closed their physical doors, patients still had concerns and doctors still had to make a living. Telemedicine became the community’s saving grace. Now, we’re seeing that the barriers to telemedicine services are weakening — from proposals to expand Medicaid and private coverage to the positive impact on patient care. There have also been some encouraging signals from regulators, with one new proposed bill making it possible to treat patients anywhere using telehealth.

Now we have an opportunity to be thoughtful about the way we embed this into our practices moving forward. Here’s how I would think about it.

Pick a secure technology platform platform

Privacy and security are real considerations for any technology platform or solution, regardless of industry. For healthcare professionals, however, HIPAA adds another layer of complexity. Although the government had made it possible to see patients virtually on platforms like Skype and FaceTime, that is really a stopgap borne out of the coronavirus. We should expect to see that reversed as we emerge from the crisis. When things eventually normalize, a HIPAA-compliant platform is the best option. Think about transitioning to one now so you’re ahead of the game.

Share the news 

Patients can’t embrace telehealth services if they don’t know you offer them. Think of sharing the news as a practice-wide initiative. Train your staff — everyone from receptionists to nurses and nurse practitioners to physician assistants — to understand what services are available and how to speak about them with your patients. 

There are real benefits to helping patients understand that they can get care more quickly with a telemedicine visit. Hearing “We can see you here at the office in three weeks or you can have a video visit with the doctor today” is a no-brainer for most patients. On a practical level, you can send a secure email to your patient base or a postcard or letter to their homes to share the scope of what you offer. Put up signage in the waiting room that also outlines your virtual services.

Work on your ‘webside’ manner

Not every doctor is Anthony Fauci, remarkably comfortable being on camera. It’s new to many of us and, like anything, requires some practice to get good. I’ve written extensively about this before but the basics are:

  • Be kind and warm; for many patients, this type of interaction is new and strange. Do your best to put them at ease. 
  • Come prepared. Dress professionally, don’t fumble with papers, make good eye contact by looking directly at your device’s camera, and practice active listening as you always would.
  • Make sure your patient is comfortable with the technology. Walk them through what you’ll need them to do step by step (“To see the rash, I’ll need you to take your phone and..”). 
  • Brush up on your virtual exam skills. Knowing how to execute a modified physical examination, like working through a musculoskeletal complaint, is really key.
  • Wind down the visit gracefully. Save time for questions, walk through a recap of the visit, and indicate if follow up is needed or forthcoming. 

Telehealth services are beneficial to patients and doctors alike. For patients, this option offers more convenience, ease and speed of access, and time savings. For doctors, it’s relatively simple to set up, easy to use, and ensures the lines of communication and patient care stay open. It also opens up an opportunity to substantially increase patient volume over what’s possible in a brick-and-mortar world.

Have you embraced telehealth in your practice? What’s working for you?

About the Author: 

Dr. Rawlinson is an entrepreneurial physician executive, strategic leader, and digital healthcare product innovator. He is passionate about creating digital tools and new delivery models that reduce waste and inefficiency, improve quality, and drive improved performance and satisfaction. 

Dr. Rawlinson volunteers for The Maven Project and Rotacare Bay Area. He tweets @CMIO. He is an avid road cyclist and a big fan of Manchester City FC in the English Premier League!

Make your program more care-centric today.

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