Are your physicians fully embracing telemedicine as an acceptable care delivery modality? Are you, as a clinician, fully comfortable with telemedicine? If not, read on. I may have a diagnosis and treatment plan that can lead to physicians enjoying telemedicine to deliver extraordinary care. And no, it’s not about fixing the physicians.

Telehealth (or Telemedicine) as we all (should) know by now is NOT about the technology. First and foremost, telehealth is a clinical service, an alternative not to in-person care, but often it is an alternative to no access to care.

Ultimately, telehealth well done is about delivering extraordinary care at a distance.

But in order to do so, we must design the telehealth experience in a way that physicians can enjoy and fully embrace it.

Clinician acceptance of telehealth in our post-Covid world is still all over the place. Most of the younger generation of clinicians are naturally embracing (or even demanding) this form of care delivery. In my experience advanced practice providers (such as NPs, or PAs) embrace this modality more easily than their MD colleagues.

So what does it take for physicians to enjoy “practicing medicine at a distance?”

Start with the End in Mind

Clarity of thought and action always starts with having a well-defined “end in mind” that you are working toward. In medicine, this is maintaining or restoring the well being, the health of patients. We can clearly see in our minds a patient’s state when they are in good health.

To paint a similarly clear picture of what a physician’s experience should be like, consider the following scenario that I use as my “design target” when creating new telemedicine services.

The Telemedicine Happy Day Scenario

Shortly before the appointed time of a telemedicine visit with your next patient, you review your patients’ medical history in the chart and study the chief complaint and, if appropriate, current vitals obtained by your team. Next, you join your virtual “exam room” for the visit where the patient is waiting, prepared for their visit. Ready to start the visit, you “invite” the patient into your virtual exam room and start the appointment.

After a few comments about the wonders of technology that allow for such an interaction during these unprecedented times, the video technology fades away and you immerse in a conversation about your patient’s condition and concerns. You can clearly see and hear the patients and there are no distractions. You record your notes in the medical record, maybe even share a test result or educational information with your patient and order or refill a prescription.
As you wrap up your visit with your patient and bid them farewell, you are confident that any follow up steps, such as scheduling the next appointment, a lab test, or other procedure will be taken care of by your team.
You calmly prepare for your next telemedicine visit, grateful for being able to safely practice medicine in the context of a system of well-defined processes and properly configured technology that allows you and everyone else on your team to practice on top of your license.

Does this sound like your reality? Or more like wishful thinking?

For me, this scenario is what telemedicine should look like and does look like for the many physicians that we helped to get the most value (and enjoyment) out of telehealth. And it is absolutely achievable, with just a little bit of effort.

A Physician Bill of Rights

Especially in larger organizations, political positioning to protect one’s interests is often behind much of today’s business communication. A disruptive innovation such as telemedicine is prone to foster such counterproductive behavior as people on both sides of any issue jockey to protect and defend.

One successful countermeasure is for leadership to jointly identify and agree on a “bill of rights” for and with the key stakeholders. Once written down and defined, most demands and expectations are often seen as very reasonable and actually in the best interest of the organization’s success.

To jumpstart such an effort, here’s one example of a Physician Bill of Rights, i.e., what physicians should reasonably expect with regards to telemedicine visits.

A Physician Bill of Telemedicine Rights
  1. You have the right to a workflow that allows you to practice on top of your license, enabling you to almost exclusively do the things that only you can do.
  2. You have the right to user-friendly, reliable, secure technology, so that you and your patients can have a clear audio-visual connection where you can see and hear each other without distractions or interruptions.
  3. You have the right to be adequately trained and supported in the workflows, the policies, and the technology.
  4. You have the right for your feedback and suggestions for improvement to be heard and reflected in the continuous improvement of the service.
  5. You have the right to be commensurately paid for the care provided.

None of these rights should sound outlandish or costly to fulfill. Yet the simple act of providing clarity as to what the organization is committed to to “make telehealth work” opens new paths of constructive communication.

Applying the Bill of Rights

When distilling the bill of rights down into specific actions, the following principles emerges:

  1. Design all workflows to optimize the physician experience.
  2. Select and configure all technologies to meet the needs of the physicians.
  3. Provide appropriate and adequate training and support.
  4. Continuously improve the service based on physicians feedback.
  5. Ensure that only reimbursable or financially sustainable services are scheduled.

Healthcare organizations that do this well are closely partnering with physicians to design workflows, policies, and support services; engage physicians in the selection of most suitable technologies; and continuously strive to make the service better.

Because when physicians enjoy doing telemedicine, patient satisfaction improves, patient engagement increases leading to better health outcomes.

And what’s not to like about that?

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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.