For a clinic, a health center, or a health system to take full advantage of “caring for patients at a distance” (a.k.a. Virtual Care, Connected Care, or Telehealth) requires reliance on a number of partners.

Whether selecting a telehealth technology vendor or selecting a telehealth services vendor, the approach is similar: know your requirements and define your processes first (don’t select the vendor first, then try to figure out what they can do for you), make sure the vendor’s has a solid reputation and a likely future, and then work hard on integrating their technology, solution, or service into your care delivery approach.

Last week, I extensively covered the process for successfully and sustainably outsourcing telehealth services. In this week’s article, wrapping up our 3-part series on “Selecting a Telehealth Services Vendor”, I’ll be sharing my perspectives on three types of non-clinical telehealth services:

  • Telehealth Staffing Agency

  • Telehealth Law Firm

  • Telehealth Consulting Firm

Selecting a Telehealth Staffing Agency

Telehealth Staffing Agencies are firms specializing in the recruitment and management of telemedicine clinicians and support staff.

While there are many general healthcare staffing companies around that in response to the Covid-19 health crisis also started to recruit for virtual clinicians, virtual nurses, or virtual services operations and support staff, there are a number of healthcare staffing companies that are focused on the unique aspects of recruiting virtual clinicians.

I know of one agency that has focused for over 10 years exclusively on recruiting and placing clinicians for telehealth jobs. As the need for and interest in telehealth resources exploded in response to the Covid-19 health crisis, that agency expanded and is now assisting in the recruitment of over 20 different telehealth roles ranging from nurses (nurse navigators, nurse educators, etc.) and therapists (speech, occupational, and psychological) to the traditional physicians, dentists, and radiologists.

When selecting an agency like that, obviously the time to placement, placement success rate, and fees are the most critical factors in selecting a partner to fill your telehealth vacancies.

Psychiatrists and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

Some of the staffing vendors may simply act as recruiters, while others may offer you access to their clinicians as part of an outsourced clinical service. In a sense, those agencies could be described as offering clinicians as “tele locum tenens”.

The most common example of this genre of telehealth services vendors are telepsychiatrists. Many behavioral health agencies, especially in rural areas, are having a challenging time to recruit and retain psychiatrists. Many of these organizations also rarely require a full time psychiatrist.

As far back as the early 2010s, a number of vendors started offering access to telebehavioral health services, including psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners. In most circumstances, these clinicians remain employees of the vendor while providing services to patients, including the documentation of their encounters in the behavioral health agencies’ EHR, to ensure continuity of care.

There are however also some vendors who focus solely on the recruitment of telepsychiatrists, similar to what a typical staffing or recruitment agency would provide.

Hiring a Telehealth Law Firm

Telehealth Law Firms include lawyers and law firms with a focus on digital health and telehealth related legal and regulatory challenges.

With the advent of telehealth in the mid 1990s and the rapid growth starting in the early 2000s, some lawyers in some healthcare law firms started as much as 30 years ago to specialize in telehealth and later digital health legal issues.

In the recent decade, a handful of firms and about half a dozen individual lawyers have emerged as thought leaders and trail blazers in the field of telehealth law and now digital health law. The legal advice ranges from topics such as licensure and accreditation requirements, malpractice considerations, and interpreting the various medical state boards’ rules around telehealth to the creation of legal entities for the purpose of rendering virtual services.

Many lawyers are also very active in providing legal guidance to lobby state and the federal governments to update their regulations in recognition of the fascinating capabilities of telehealth and digital health.

To select the best law firm and lawyer, first become very clear about your specific needs and requirements and schedule a number of visits with potential lawyers to identify a good fit — cultural and personality wise — and also to learn in your interviews about legal advice needs that you may not have considered yet.

Engaging a Telehealth Consulting Firm

Telehealth Consulting Firms include boutique and general healthcare consulting firms with expertise in the launch, optimization, growth, and expansion of telehealth and digital health solutions and services.

The value proposition of a telehealth consulting firm is the depth and breadth of their expertise. Many healthcare delivery organizations (i.e., clinics, hospitals, and behavioral health agencies) had to figure most things telehealth out during the Covid-19 health crisis and in most cases the experience for clinicians and patients alike was quite unsatisfactory and frustrating.

Whereas individuals and teams at healthcare organizations typically have only launched one telehealth program, the consultants and principals of the telehealth boutique consulting firms have done so dozens of times, across dozens of specialties, and typically in a handful or a dozen different states.

What these consulting firms bring is the experience of having seen virtually everything that can go wrong. Their biggest value proposition to their clients is that they can do it much faster and at a much higher level of quality than the internal staff.

At most healthcare organizations leadership and the operations and support staff are very good at running things. Telehealth and Digital Health, however, is mostly about starting new things. The launch, optimization, growth, and expansion of telehealth services includes the design and implementation of dozens of new workflows, new policies, and new support procedures and more than anything requires finesse in change management.

In addition to those soft skills, the expertise of those teams also includes knowledge about billing and compliance, as well as marketing.

On the leadership side, a telehealth program that is to flourish must be guided by a strategy and managed through a performance measurement system. Experience telehealth consultants know how to develop and implement both.

Finally, on the technology side, the selection of the suitable technology solutions and devices from the vast array of offerings, as well as the selection of supplemental service vendors is something that these consultants have done numerous times, making them a valuable asset to even the most experienced IT staff.

Engaging a Partner – If you only knew, you needed one

A recruiter, lawyer, and a consultant walk into a bar. Says the recruiter: “Hey bartender, what’s with the service here? Let me help you out. I can get you wait staff, kitchen staff, and a great chef easily.” Says the lawyer: “And I’ll help you to stay out of jail if someone goes after you.” Adds the consultant: “I’ll optimize your profits, improve your marketing, and help you select the finest equipment and technology.”

The bartender takes a good look at each of them, lets out a deep sigh and says: “Well, that sounds mighty interesting — and boy am I glad that none of you is a proctologist!”

Of course, aside from the absence of that clinical specialist, this story will only have a happy ending if the bar owner happens to realize that the establishment needs staff, legal advice, or counsel on optimization.

Based on my almost 25 years in healthcare, chances are that most healthcare organizations do need many aspects of those services, yet it’s often organizational blind spots as in: “you don’t know, what you don’t know” that prevent leaders from taking full advantage of what those experts can offer.

Which brings us back to the beginning: before selecting a vendor, the team must first know there is a need, define it and seek solutions to their most pervasive, costly, urgent problems. And that may be staffing, legal advice, or good ol’ outside expertise and an extra set of hands to help you.

As a boutique consultancy focused on accelerating the adoption of digital health innovation, we know many great telehealth staffing agencies, a handful of superb digital health lawyers, and even a few superb consulting firms beyond ourselves.

Are you in need of any of those services? Then reach out to me and let’s have a chat!

To receive articles like these in your Inbox every week, you can subscribe to Christian’s Telehealth Tuesday Newsletter.

Subscribe to Telehealth Tuesday

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.