Telehealth visits are often thought of as an alternative care delivery method when patients cannot easily come into the clinic due to transportation challenges, child care challenges, or because they can’t easily take time off from work.

But virtual care — which we simply define as providing care at a distance — can be used in so many more different ways to increase provider capacity, to serve more patients, and to make telehealth sustainable.

12 Ways to Increase Care Capacity, Part 1

With lingering and worsening clinician and nursing shortage on everyone’s mind, solutions for increasing the capacity to care for your existing patient population or to even grow your population for increased financial sustainability are of keen interest to the CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, CNOs, and COOs.

It basically boils down to the simple question: how to care for more patients with fewer clinicians in a way that creates great clinical outcomes and is financially sustainable?

As we all know, the solution is not to work harder, but to work smarter.

One of those smart solutions is Virtual Care (aka telehealth). Here are the first 6 of 12 ways to leverage virtual care to serve more patients:

1. Use RPM for chronic disease management

If you were managing the performance of your clinic through facts, your data would most likely show that quite a few of your primary care visits are unplanned visits with patients that have multiple chronic diseases. By leveraging Remote Physiological Monitoring you can not only keep those patients out of your clinic (freeing up more appointment slots for other patients and reducing clinician burnout), you would also help most of those patients to become more engaged in their care, to be active participants.

2. Leverage more time-efficient video visits

Reportedly, most video visits are much shorter than in person visits. As one theory goes — since the patients did not have to invest 30 minutes or more to get to the appointment neither patient nor clinician are inclined to make this appointment longer than needed. There is typically less small talk and the shorter meetings make room for the inevitable “crisis of the day” or simply also reduce clinician burnout (which has contributed much to the staffing shortage).

3. Convert no shows and cancellations to video visits

Once you have optimized your video visits through well-defined workflows, Telehealth TechChecks, proper training, as well as clinician and patient friendly technology, you can start training your front office staff, schedulers, or your call center to offer a video visit as an alternative to a cancellation. A high-performing clinic that asks its patients to come in 15 minute before the appointment will also call patients about 10 minutes after that time to confirm they are on their or whether they’d like a video visit instead of not showing up because they forgot. Another “trick” is also to mention the offer to switch to a video visit, of course only if clinically appropriate, can also be included in the appointment reminder robocalls.

4. Use asynchronous messaging for health maintenance

In a non-fee-for-service world (we can still dream) doing what’s right by the patient would never be questioned, so just imagine this scenario in a value-based care environment where the optimal wellbeing (and preventing avoidable utilization) is the one thing that matters most. Under these circumstances, engaging secure messages (that patients can easily retrieve so they can actually see them) can do wonders for ongoing health maintenance. Many people do appreciate the fact that somebody cares and that somebody is looking out for them. “I see your medication refill is due soon, do you have any questions or concerns about that?”. “Any updates from your visit with the allergist last week? Do you have any concerns or questions?”

These types of questions will keep patients engaged, actively involved in their care plan and free up visit slots from appointments that otherwise would have been used to cover these types of questions.

5. Offer Tele Triage

Not all acute injuries or symptoms require an immediate or same-day visit to a clinic. Through a tele triage visit that includes video, a nurse can quickly assess the best course of action: Should the patient go to the ER or the nearest urgent care clinic? Would a video visit with a clinician suffice or should they come in now or tomorrow?

Under many imaginable circumstances patients can quickly be diverted to the most appropriate level of care, in this case to prevent the overworking of clinicians but also to offer the patient the most appropriate level of care

6. Leverage virtual integrated behavioral health for improved chronic disease health maintenance

Behavioral health conditions can oftentimes either be the root cause of chronic disease or the chronic disease burden can be a root cause for behavioral health challenges. In either case, going beyond the “integrated behavioral health” model for general primary care, the integration of virtual behavioral health alongside chronic care management through RPM can further improve patient outcomes and thereby reduce utilization and free up capacity.

Seeing Virtual Care as a Care Delivery Alternative

Virtual care, as I mentioned above, is so much more than just video visits. And we’ve only scratched the surface with video visits, video triage, RPM, and secure messaging. There are many other ways to provide “care at a distance”.

Once clinicians and leaders fully see the potential of virtual care (and are no longer shackled by a fee-for-service mindset), healthcare can deliver much more timely, efficient, and efficacious care than in an in-person-only world.

We’ll continue the above list with at least six more items in the next article.

What ideas do you have for using virtual care to see more patients? Contact me or post your ideas in the comments below.

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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.