Patients seem to love telehealth. When you remove the journey time and parking hassles, health care becomes much more convenient.
If you’re an allied health professional offering telehealth, how do you make it a smooth, positive experience for those patients you think are a good fit for telehealth?
You don’t need fancy gear to run a telehealth service but you do need reliable equipment with good quality video and audio and a robust internet connection.
You can get by with the web camera built into your laptop or tablet but, if you want higher resolution images, it’s worth buying an external webcam. If you might be demonstrating exercises, look for a webcam that will zoom in and out as you change your position.
A wireless headset improves your audio quality by:
Whatever equipment you’re using, make sure it is working properly (do a test run) and that your computer is either plugged in or fully charged. You want to be confident that your equipment is working well so you can concentrate on the clinical aspects of the consultation.
There are many software programs suitable for telehealth. Your chosen platform needs to be secure to protect patient privacy but accessible so that patients can use it easily.
Patient privacy is a foundation of good healthcare.
For telehealth, that means complying with all the privacy rules you’d abide by in a face-to-face consultation plus some additional ones to ensure data security online.
That means you need:
Once you’ve sorted out the IT side, you need to choose a private room for the consultation and ensure there’ll be no interruptions. If you’re working from home, that means you’ll need to make sure family members don’t come in.
Now you’ve decided how your telehealth service will work, you need to communicate clearly with your patients.
Send them an email a few days before the session providing:
As you’ll be sending this information out to many patients over the weeks to come, it may be worth creating a template or brochure to save you time down the track. Ask a friend to pretend to be a patient and read it for you. Is there any confusing or missing information?
You’re providing a professional service, even if it’s not face-to-face.
Prepare for this consultation as you would prepare for a day in the clinic. Read any patient notes. Put on your usual uniform or professional clothes, have a notepad and pen ready to jot down notes (tell patients when you’re writing things down so you don’t appear distracted) and pay attention to your physical space.
Although this telehealth patient won’t set foot in your room, it should still look like a professional workspace. Look behind you at what your patients will see during a video call and remove any clutter.
If you need to demonstrate physio exercises or share resources on screen, then make sure you have everything right there so you don’t waste consultation time hunting for files or weights.
You need good lighting for a professional video call. Make sure the light is hitting your face not your back (that’ll throw your face into shadow). And make sure your camera is raised to your eye level.
You’ve laid the groundwork and now you’re back on familiar territory, providing clinical care to a patient who needs you.
So, take a deep breath and begin – with a few slight changes to reflect the new medium.
When a patient attends your clinic, they confirm their details at reception before being sent through to you. There is no reception desk in a telehealth appointment so you need to confirm the patient’s identity at the beginning of the call. It’s also good to check that they can hear and see you properly.
Then all your existing consultation skills come into play as you assess the patient’s condition and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Payment, documentation and feedback are your three tasks after the consultation ends.
Send the invoice promptly (or process a credit card payment before the call ends).
Write your clinical notes as you would after a face-to-face session and ensure you send any referrals or patient information sheets quickly.
Ask yourself how the session went. What worked and what could be improved? Then ask your patient. Develop a patient feedback questionnaire that you routinely send after appointments to help you finesse your telehealth service.
Telehealth is still a relatively new service in Australia. It’s worth checking if your professional body has produced any specific guidance that would help you. You can read Allied Health Professions Australia’s Telehealth Guide for Allied Health Professionals here.
Planning is important but, once you’ve put the proper foundations in place, you’ll learn by doing. So give it a go.
Patients are changing. They’re keen to find flexible, convenient allied health services that fit their lifestyles. Telehealth is part of this bigger picture and a great way to access a group of digitally savvy patients who may not be able to see you in the clinic during the working day.
Therago’s directory connects you with these patients. Sign up today.