As we move into a new year, the need for healthcare CEOs to promote and provide support for the various forms of virtual care services is becoming more and more critical as profit-focused, alternative care providers are moving into the virtual care space.

While virtual care will not completely replace traditional care delivery any time soon, the modern healthcare consumers’ demand for this convenient and effective service will continue to grow.

To prepare for this demand, here are 3 DOs and 3 DON’Ts for healthcare leaders to consider.

DO treat Telehealth as an alternative care delivery modality.

One of the most important mindset shifts for healthcare leaders is to fully embrace that telehealth is unlike any other organizational change they have experienced or led in the past. In its effect on the organization, even the digitization of the medical record pales in comparison.

The good news is that telehealth, by far, does not have to be in any shape or form as painful as the introduction and integration of an EHR system. Because first and foremost telehealth is NOT about the integration of a technology.

(Side note: the purpose of early EHRs was to maximize billability; the purpose of (good) telehealth technology is to facilitate an extraordinary patient-clinician experience. Big difference!)

First and foremost, telehealth is about delivering care. At its essence, telehealth is about delivering care at a distance. It’s a clinical tool that clinicians can use at their discretion. And it’s about building and integrating a parallel set of care delivery processes that uses communications technology — as a tool.

DO think of Telehealth as a multidisciplinary effort

Once Telehealth is seen as a new care delivery modality, complementary to in-person care, it becomes obvious that EVERYONE in the organization will need to be involved. From scheduling to billing, from nursing to prescriptions, from the helpdesk to compliance.

To build a set of successful Telehealth processes, it takes everyone in your organization to participate in the effort, including the definition of a set of 7 workflows that include scheduling, onboarding, rooming, the visit, post visit, follow-up and billing.

DO leverage Telehealth to achieve your strategic objectives

In working with numerous healthcare leaders over the past decade, they all gained a key insight: that telehealth is a tactical tool that astute leaders can use to advance virtually ALL of their strategic objectives.

Today’s healthcare organizations typically structure their telehealth strategy around the six common pillars of service, quality, people, finance, growth, and community. Telehealth offers numerous opportunities to create strategic success through better access, better outcomes, expanded geographic reach, reduced no shows, reduced stigma, increased patient engagement, reduced burnout, and more.

DON’T mistake Telehealth for a fad or stop-gap measure.

Telehealth, when it first came into widespread use in 2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 health crisis, was seen by many as a stop-gap measure; an inferior method to delivering care that was still better than the alternative of no care.

Many organizations were not prepared for a large-scale use of telehealth and struggled to deliver quality experiences for patients and clinicians. Most “telehealth” visits were conducted over the phone vs. the benefit of high-quality video. Others, who had used telehealth prior to the start of the pandemic, quickly scaled their ability, some up to 5,000 virtual care visits a day.

By now it’s clear that Telehealth is here to stay. The toothpaste is not going back into the tube. The cat is out of the bag. The train has left the station. You get the idea.

Aside from numerous telehealth-only service providers (often lavishly promoted to patients by the patients’ health insurance), many services focused on self-insured companies are now switching to a “virtual first” model en masse. The recent announcement by Amazon to buy One Medical is just one of the more recent examples. CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Best Buy and even Dollar General are also gearing up to offer virtual care services to their customers — which are your patients!

In addition, the aforementioned Modern Healthcare Consumer will not only be delighted by the availability of telehealth options — they’ll be expecting and demanding them.

DON’T think that Technology is the solution

In the midst of the complexity to embrace telehealth — what about reimbursement? what about digital literacy? what about clinical efficacy? — it can be tempting to look for a silver bullet, to look for technology as a solution to the multitude of problems.

Alas, while good, user-friendly, reliable, secure technology is essential to a great telehealth experience, it is only a small piece of the overall puzzle.

Much of the performance of telehealth and the experience of clinicians and patients depends on the not-so-technical workflows, policies, training, and support.

Many superb telehealth solutions can greatly help with the workflow and minimize the need for training and support. Still, they cannot cover all workflows, policies, and technology needs.

After all, telehealth is not about the technology.

DON’T believe patients don’t want telehealth.

Based on our experience, the statement that patients don’t really want telehealth stems from a multitude of factors and has a number of root causes.

The most common is that it is a statement made by clinicians who for different reasons may not feel comfortable using video to care for their patients. It is most likely that they were never properly oriented as to how to use this novel care delivery modality.

Most every clinician learned in their training the “bedside manners” of interacting effectively with patients and family members. But when Covid hit, nobody took the time to explain how to master the “webside manners” — how to powerfully communicate with patients over video.

Nobody likes to look foolish, at least of all clinicians. Thus many (consciously or unconsciously) try to avoid telehealth and rationalize away the need for an interest in video televisits. Besides, if the clinician feels awkward or frustrated with the technology, patients will not have a good experience. That does not mean that they don’t want telehealth. It just means they don’t want telehealth with that clinician.

On the other hand, in many rural areas, connectivity and the availability of suitable technology can be a challenge. But the challenge of access to technology, “internet minutes” and digital literacy is not limited to rural areas. Many health centers in urban locations are reporting similar challenges, despite a seemingly better infrastructure.

Applying the DOs and DON’Ts

With telehealth being here to stay, here are the six most effective ways for any healthcare leaders to ensure that their clinicians and their patients are getting the most value out of telehealth:

  1. Provide Webside Manners training for all clinicians.
  2. Invest in the design and training of the seven critical telehealth workflows.
  3. Create and communicate a Telehealth Vision that inspires and excites to make it clear that telehealth is not going away.
  4. Create a set of strategic telehealth objectives that will help you to achieve your overall strategic objectives.
  5. Assemble a multi-disciplinary telehealth steering team to direct and guide the activities to fully integrate telehealth into your care delivery system.
  6. Engage all clinicians in rethinking care delivery in a hybrid care environment.

Finally, DO reach out to us if you need assistance with any of these activities. We can provide proven toolkits, assessments, templates, training, and mentoring. You DON’T have to figure this out all by yourself.

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Christian Milaster and his team optimize Telehealth Services for health systems and physician practices. Christian is the Founder and President of Ingenium Digital Health Advisors where he and his expert consortium partner with healthcare leaders to enable the delivery of extraordinary care.

Contact Christian by phone or text at 657-464-3648, via email, or video chat.