When COVID-19 was declared a global health emergency at the beginning of the year and communities across the nation went into lockdown, it felt like the world was on pause. But for the healthcare industry, the wheels had to find a way to keep turning. Enter, telehealth. Though digital delivery of care was not newly introduced this year, its usage has certainly skyrocketed in response to the pandemic, and now that providers and patients are becoming more accustomed to it, it looks like it’s here to stay.
We recently sat down with Kim Martinez, Director of Patient Services at Aspire Allergy & Sinus in Austin, TX, to discuss how telehealth has helped keep their clinic running through the pandemic and share the tips she recommends for anyone who plans to continue using remote care models, even after things return to normal.
Here’s some of her advice:
In order to drive adoption of telehealth at your clinic, it’s important to ensure that the barriers to entry are low–for everyone. This means implementing a solution that is fully integrated with your EHR. It shouldn’t require any additional applications or portals to be accessed, so that scheduling is made easy for front desk staff.
Research has shown that less than one-third of patients log into portals despite 90% of providers offering it as a channel for care delivery. Additionally, on the provider side, any extra steps required to schedule or launch an appointment end up adding administrative burden.
Aspire Allergy & Sinus has found great success using a telehealth solution like Luma Health’s that enables both patients and providers to access appointments with just a single click. For patients, the session can be launched directly from a text message reminder, and for providers, it can be initiated right from within the EHR. Not only does this make for a better patient experience, but it also helps to drive better attendance.
“It’s been a pretty seamless process as far as patients receiving a link and just being able to open the app, versus the platform that we used prior to [Luma Health], which involved logging in, sending an email, and just a lot more administrative steps. You’re looking at a 90% decrease in the amount of administrative time to be able to schedule those appointments.”Kim Martinez, Director of Patient Services, Aspire Allergy & Sinus
At the start of the pandemic, telehealth may have been used out of necessity, but as time has passed, it’s clear that telehealth can actually be a mainstay in your clinic workflows.
For Martinez and her team at Aspire Allergy & Sinus, they’ve identified three use cases for the continued application of televisits that have helped streamline the patient experience:
1. Performing initial consults: Seeing new patients for the first time no longer has to be in person. To begin a new patient relationship right away, initial consultations can be held via telehealth.
This has been especially helpful to Aspire Allergy & Sinus during COVID-19, as they’ve been able to continue bringing in new patients and keep business going. They’ve performed initial new patient visits virtually, and then scheduled in-person follow-ups to administer allergy tests. Since utilizing telehealth for initial consults, Aspire Allergy & Sinus has seen up to a 92% new patient conversion.
If you are in primary care or in a specialty in which patients can be seen in some capacity virtually, it may be helpful to consider utilizing telehealth as an initial touchpoint to help maximize efficiency.
“At the onset of COVID-19, we probably were at about a 50 to 60% new patient conversion. Coming back into the clinic and opening up while utilizing telehealth a little bit more, we’re maintaining about 90 to 92%.”
2. Delivering follow-up appointments: Typically after an allergy test, patients will have lab results that they’ll need to go into the clinic to review with a provider. However, to keep foot traffic inside their clinic at a minimum during COVID-19, Aspire Allergy & Sinus has reserved in-person appointments for necessary care, such as initial testing or allergy injections, and opted to do follow-up appointments through telemedicine, at which point, providers can also finalize treatment plans.
With the ability to do these types of appointments virtually, providers are not only able to keep patients safe, but they’re also able to create a more convenient experience in which patients are saved another trip to the clinic and can discuss their lab results or review treatment plans with you from the comfort of their own homes.
If you have appointments that have the flexibility to be done virtually, digital delivery of care, via telehealth, even after the pandemic is under control, can help make a more convenient and pleasant patient experience.
3. Seeing ill patients: During the pandemic, it’s been more important than ever to reinforce keeping patients home if they are feeling ill. However, that does not mean those patients can’t still receive care.
With telemedicine at their disposal, Aspire Allergy & Sinus has been able to continue seeing patients who aren’t feeling well, while still keeping their clinic environment safe and healthy for staff and other patients who are required to come in for appointments.
Specialty allowing, even when the pandemic is over and life returns to normal, it would be good practice to continue implementing virtual care for patients who are unwell to help maintain a healthy clinic environment.
If you’re looking to improve your telehealth offering, this on-demand webinar shares some best practices.
Martinez shares that during the pandemic, having an option of digital delivery of care really helped their clinic maintain relationships with their referring providers because they were still able to take referrals and see new patients.
They were able to quickly convert their appointments to virtual care, which helped bridge the two-week gap of being shut down, while they adapted to the new normal of serving patients during the pandemic.
Having the additional channel for care delivery makes your clinic more adaptable and can help boost provider relations with those who refer patients to your specialty clinic.
COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of digital health adoption, and it’s becoming clear that the technology is here to stay. As you think about the future of care delivery at your organization, consider the ways in which digital delivery of care models can support or improve your patient reach.
Do you see telehealth in your long term operation plans? What processes have you put in place at your practice to make the patient experience seamless as you go between digital and in-person delivery? We’d love to hear from you and connect on how we can implement technology together for better patient care.