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5 Things You Need to Launch Virtual Visits, COVID-19-Related or Otherwise (April 2)

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This first week of April, if you are a hospital system, you are likely in the process of moving all available visits to virtual care; with in-person interactions limited due to the coronavirus crisis, virtual care is now the only way to get most patients the care they need.

Moreover, it’s an important time to earn market share in virtual visits. Hospitals are up against telemedicine-focused entities, who compete in the virtual visit space. The rest of the article is about winning that market share as virtual visits are a very important way to keep revenue streams flowing at a critical time for hospitals.

Here are five steps to take in order to facilitate a successful rollout of virtual care:

1. Define Virtual Care for Patients and Visitors Alike

Virtual care, virtual visits, telemedicine, and telehealth all mean slightly different things to patients and clinicians. You need to define what your version of virtual care means.

Largely, this is going to be a first-time experience for patients and providers alike. There is not a clear winning model or expectation of what virtual care looks like, and your solution will vary on the reality of how well-equipped your organization is to deliver care — e.g., on-demand versus scheduled, with your PCP, with anyone available, etc.

You will need a single page defining virtual care for reference across the site. Ensure that this page includes the fundamental definitions of exactly what virtual care means for your organization.

2. Promote Virtual Care at Points of Conversion

Virtual care may be available for some or all service lines and physicians. Your organization is likely struggling with bringing on new physicians rapidly, and that availability will change weekly — if not daily.

You should be promoting virtual care in the following places at minimum:

  • Homepage notification
  • Sitewide banner redirecting to page on virtual care
  • Notification on physician directory
  • Notification on physician profiles

These simple steps will increase the uptake rate and lower no-shows or missed appointments.

3. Explain What Happens Next (in Advance)

There is no widely prescribed process yet for virtual care. Consumer expectations are fairly limited, often to only urgent-care visits from their phone, often through a third-party service, and usually for a nominal fee ($0 to $40).

Many organizations are changing their virtual care models from these urgent-care visits to letting users receive care from their trusted medical home or, better yet, continue their treatment with their own care teams. As there are no consumer expectations, you will need to explain what happens before, during, and after receiving virtual care.

This includes:

  • What materials patients need before an appointment
  • Whether you accept insurance for these visits
  • Cost of copay or out-of-pocket costs
  • If the patient’s PCP will see the results of their virtual appointment
  • What patients need to do after their appointments

Charting out what’s happening step by step will help first-time patients engage in virtual care successfully. Simultaneously, this process will help your organization earn market share in virtual care.

4. Email Out Changes in Status

If you’ve not yet communicated with patients about virtual care changes, email is a useful tool for addressing the exact populations that will be serviced by your new virtual care offerings. Many systems have seen success with emails through their EMR systems, such as Epic’s MyChart, that promote their new virtual care options.

You should be able to segment communications about:

  • Offices moving to virtual care, by office
  • Primary care physicians bringing their caseloads online, by physician
  • Remote care physicians managing care loads online, by services
  • Remote management of high-risk group, by service provided
  • Non-primary English-speaking doctors, by languages spoken

As your system brings on groups of physicians, having a planned communication strategy via email will help triage and direct patients to the right place at the right time.

5. Plan to Address Future Integration of Virtual Care Records

Making virtual care feel integrated into the rest of the system is a good first start — appointment reminders, follow-up emails, and other supporting documents may not be fully set up if you’re rapidly deployed a virtual care system.

Nonetheless, more challenges are ahead for how patients are collecting information via virtual care. Unified patient records may not exist at your hospital, despite now having numerous entry points of patient information.

Make sure you clarify who will have access to patient information generated from virtual care — the patient? The patient’s PCP? The doctor only? — and how that information will be reconciled back into the system.

The surge in demand for virtual care means many organizations are facing a “trial by fire” as they integrate this vital service into their offerings.  However, taking control of this experience allows you to deliver on core promises of ease, stickiness, and pervasiveness in healthcare.

Virtual visits are a way to win at all three.

Taking the time to consider how virtual care will work for your particular healthcare organization and patients will lead to a smoother launch and more buy-in from patients and providers alike.

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Paul Griffiths

Paul Griffiths is the GM of the Digital Healthcare Solutions unit at Perficient, where he works with hospital and health plan marketing departments on digital initiatives. DHS services integrated healthcare delivery systems around the United States.

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