A Guide for Leaders in Healthcare

In the week leading up to Christmas 2021 it is now all but certain that over the holidays and well into January, the Omicron variant will once again put a strain on our healthcare delivery system. With just 4% of new cases being identified as the Omicron variant last week, this week already 75% of all new cases are Omicron.

Especially in healthcare, these past months have been extremely exhausting from the Delta variant in late summer to vaccine mandates in the fall and now Omicron just in time for the winter season. I’m sincerely hoping that we’ll get a break from Covid in the spring.

While over the past 21 months Telehealth has certainly been on the mind of healthcare’s leaders, it has taken somewhat of a backseat especially over the past months. While those organizations who had telehealth in place before the pandemic have continued to stabilize and build out their telehealth services, those who were quickly pushed into telehealth also retreated almost as quickly out of it.

Over the past months many leaders, especially in the health center and rural clinic world, however, have realized that telehealth is here to stay (and more and more patients are demanding it) and actually a quite helpful tool.

If what was needed to push telehealth to the next level for your organization, Omicron may just provide that burning platform. In order to successfully and swiftly combat Omicron in your community while keeping the doors open for Covid and non-Covid patients alike, here’s a battle plan.

A 9-Step Telehealth Battle Plan for Omicron
1. Telehealth Mission & Vision: Establish and widely communicate a clear vision and mission for leveraging Telehealth to combat Omicron. This should include the marching order of “virtual first” and “hybrid care delivery”. Without clear, concise communication the organization may not realize how important mastery of telehealth is to keep staff safe and to keep diagnosing and treating all patients. The lives of many literally depend on wielding the telehealth tool correctly.
2. Clinical Leadership: Name a designated clinical telehealth leader as the key clinical point person. Telehealth is a care delivery mechanism and as such a clinical service that must be under the leadership of a clinician.
3. Clinical Guidelines. Task the clinical telehealth leader to work with their colleagues to devise guidance around the appropriate use of telehealth, when to switch to in-person care, etc.
4. Designated Operational & Technical Support. Identify two designated staff to provide part-time operational support (e.g., training, performance measurement) and technical support (e.g., troubleshooting, licensing, access).
5. Video Visit Training. Have the support staff develop self-service training for the clinicians on the proper use of your designated telehealth technology – where to find it, how to access it, how to use it. Preferably develop a 1-page cheat sheet and a 15 minute video, including tips on Webside Manners. If you do not do that, you may find out for yourself why physicians don’t like being on camera.
6. Refine your Telehealth Workflows. Now is the best time to work on smoothing out your telehealth workflows. Collaborate with the appropriate staff (schedulers, nurses, clinicians, billing) to ensure that everyone knows how telehealth works: How to offer it when they call, how to virtual “room” patients, what to do after the visit, how to properly code them to ensure correct billing, etc. For more guidance, check out Telehealth Workflows, Policies & Technologies.
7. Define your Hybrid Care delivery environment. It’s now very clear that telehealth is here to stay and that especially during times of heightened Covid infections telehealth is a great tool to ensure the continuation of care delivery. Hybrid Care is as much about embracing a new mindset (a viable parallel care delivery mechanism) as it is about the systematic approach to defining it. While the time may be too short, the continued definition of Hybrid Care for your organization is worthwhile exploring even during the Omicron crisis.
8. Establish a Telehealth TechCheck℠ process. Many patients will once again need help to re-familiarize themselves with the technology. A pre-visit TechCheck ensures that patients are familiar with your telehealth solution, have the appropriate technology and sufficient connectivity. In addition, the TechCheck can provide additional tips (such as to avoid a bright background and to put on headphones for privacy) to ensure a good experience for all.
9. Create a Rudimentary Telehealth Performance Dashboard. It’s critical during this phase that leadership keeps an eye on the telehealth volume, reimbursement, and, at least anecdotally, patient & physician satisfaction and support issues. This may be a good time to implement some of the 5 key telehealth success metrics.
A good plan is half the battle
A few columns back, I defined “100% Telehealth” as providing care at a distance every time a patients wants it, can do it and when it’s clinically appropriate. During this heightened need for social distancing to successfully “bend the Omicron infection curve”, the steps outlined above will help you achieve your organization’s own version of “100% Telehealth”.

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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.