Telehealth 2022: Tips for maximizing telemedicine tools

The greatest challenge moving forward will be how to maximize remote medical capabilities.

With telehealth now a permanent healthcare delivery option, the greatest challenge moving forward will be how to maximize remote medical capabilities to benefit both patients and providers.

More than 73% of patients surveyed in a 2022 State of Telemedicine Report released by Doximity say they plan to continue receiving care through telemedicine now that pandemic restrictions are being lifted. The number of clinicians surveyed who are continuing to use telemedicine as part of their practice is also significant. Some experts predict telehealth usage could keep expanding 40% annually for the next five years.

Nevertheless, conducting a medical exam over a screen has limitations. It’s difficult for some patients to navigate. It is limiting for many types of physical evaluations. And it can feel somewhat removed for a mental health visit.

Nor is it ideal for physicians, who are trying to focus on the patient, listen to their issues, and take accurate notes for charting and reimbursement. During telehealth visits, providers don’t have the in-person support of office staff to record patient information, pull up labs and other diagnostic reports, or schedule follow-up visits. This leaves a gap that can be filled by remote administrative support.

Here are 10 simple tips for optimizing telehealth:

1. Simplify your technology

Use the most simple, intuitive telemedicine platform, like Zoom or Doxy.me, which are HIPAA compliant.

With Zoom and other more comprehensive, universal meeting applications, you can simply share a link with the patient and a remote medical scribe who can discreetly log in without video to record information in a patient’s chart and provide support throughout a visit.

2. Upgrade your internet connection and sound

The more megabits per second (Mbps), the better your connection will be. Upgrade to 100 Mbps or more for optimal speed and reliability.

Telehealth appointments need to be conducted in a quiet space without distractions or interruptions. Use a good microphone, not the one on the computer, or consider wearing earbuds that eliminate extraneous noise.

3. What you see is what you get

Make sure you’re well lit. Keep the computer camera in line with your face, not too low or too high. Make sure your background is professional and not too busy, especially if you are not in an office setting.

4. Maintain patient focus

Telehealth can feel disconnected. The last thing a patient wants is to stare at a screen on their computer, tablet or phone while their provider takes notes, types on their keyboard, or looks away to find something.

A remote medical scribe, logged into the EMR during a telemedicine visit, can focus on charting so the provider can maintain eye contact and listen with undivided attention. This is especially important for mental health visits when it is crucial to observe patients carefully.

A virtual scribe can also pull up a lab report or chest x-ray, look up prescription history, or find referral information. Dedicated scribes, who are attuned to a provider’s protocols, can also remind them to check off everything on a telehealth template for more accurate coding and billing.

5. Use telemedicine charting templates

A well-trained remote medical scribe will use a special template for telemedicine visits which is designed to keep track of billing increments for 5–10-minute visits, 11-20-minute visits, 20–30-minute visits, etc., and other special telehealth coding requirements to maximize receivables.

6. Free up office staff

HCPs are often on their own during a telemedicine visit. A remote scribe can complete administrative tasks ─ including loading up prescriptions and labs, recording diagnostic codes, initiating referrals and scheduling follow-up visits ─ right away, which frees up the physician and the front office. No additional follow-up required.

7. Consider remote support

In many rural areas, practices can’t find professionals skilled in charting, researching insurance eligibility, getting prior authorizations and other crucial administrative tasks.

Telehealth applications make it easy to access trained medical support professionals located anywhere in the United States or overseas.

8. Maintain documentation integrity

It’s challenging to produce a good, quality chart when you’re trying to listen and observe a patient onscreen. An experienced, remote medical scribe can capture everything in real time and provide clean, traceable documentation for insurance inquiries. This attention to detail helps coders verify information, close charts faster for billing, and ensure faster reimbursement.

9. Consult with specialists online

Before the pandemic, healthcare providers were already using telehealth applications to fill in gaps and access specialists in other countries. For example, a radiologist in a different time zone could read diagnostic tests overnight and have reports ready the next morning.

Now, faced with substantial wait times for in-person appointments with specialists, providers can utilize telehealth to expedite care for patients in need of a consult. For example, a dermatologist could examine a rash via telehealth and prescribe medication for immediate relief.

10. Save time; be more accessible

Telemedicine helps providers reach patients who can't make it to the office due to distance or physical limitations.

It is also a significant timesaver for people who need to see a doctor during work hours. Instead of taking an hour or more to drive to a hospital or clinic, check in, and wait for the doctor, they can log in at an allotted time and complete the visit in as little as 15 minutes.

Doctors benefit from telehealth convenience as well, with the ability to do a remote visit from virtually any location at virtually any time.

We're only at the first stage of leveraging telehealth platforms, and can foresee significant improvements over the next several years. Telehealth is moving from a pandemic substitute for an office visit to a standard practice option that will help reduce a provider’s office hours while increasing patient satisfaction.

Terry Ciesla is senior vice president of ScribeEMR in Woburn, Massachusetts.