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Telemedicine During COVID: How Not to Fail Out of the Gate

Posted on Apr 23, 2020 by Grace Cordovano

    Don't get confused about telehealthThe COVID-19 pandemic swung open the floodgates for telemedicine to shine. Here are essential tips from the front-lines of telemedicine and COVID-19 hotspots to prevent your implementation from missing essential details that can cause unnecessary confusion and frustration, negatively impacting the patient experience.

    Telemedicine, how?

    Be clear about how telemedicine appointments will transpire. Most patients are new to this! Define exactly how you will be contacting the patient. Does your hospital or practice use a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform that patients will need to download, install, or access? If so, confirm if patients have access to a smart phone, device, or computer with a camera with reliable internet access. Provide patients and their carepartners with step-by-step guides to implementing the platform to successfully prepare in advance. Being able to navigate basic audio and video camera functions are critical for first-time users. Create a quick video to demo what a telemedicine consultation will be like. Don’t say you are scheduling a telemedicine consultation when the reality is, you are only calling the patient.

    Call me, maybe?

    If you are calling the patient on the phone, confirm the phone number for the virtual encounter and whether this is a cell number or home landline. Patients have been expecting calls on their cell phones only to miss calls that went to their home landline and vice versa. This causes great anxiety and frustration that can be avoided with simple planning and communication.

    Make sure to confirm what type of cell phone a patient may have. Not every patient has a smart phone with access to face-to-face calls.

    Patients with an iPhone should not be told to download and install the FaceTime app; it’s already on the phone! Patients and families have been left scratching their heads wondering how to get an “additional” FaceTime app on their iPhone, thinking this was a specific FaceTime app for doctor appointments. Similarly, you can’t FaceTime if you don’t have an Apple device. Don’t assume everyone has an iPhone. Have alternatives for face-to-face video calling ready for those without an Apple device. Encourage patients to practice with a family member prior to their actual appointment.

    Ask the patient if they have a preference for an audio-only call or a face-to-face call. Listen carefully to any concerns. Many patients may be hesitant to engage in a face-to-face call out of concern for their living circumstances or physical appearances while ill. Gently encourage face-to-face calls when medically necessary with empathy. Trust and compassion are critical for virtual health care too.

    Privacy please!

    Be mindful of patient privacy during virtual appointments. Not all patients have a space set aside for Using telehealthprivate conversations. This is extremely applicable during this COVID-19 pandemic as many areas across the United States are practicing social distancing, with potentially multiple family members working from home, unemployed at home, and with children and young adults learning remotely. Having conversations about sensitive diagnoses, such mental health, substance abuse, sexual health, domestic violence, or discussions about earth-shattering diagnoses, such as cancer or rare disease, can be difficult, if not impossible. Depending on the circumstances, prepare patients ahead of time to set aside a quiet space, if possible, for their upcoming virtual appointment. Provide patients with an option for them to reach out with any concerns about their safety via email or text message.

    Accessibility is a must!
    Determine if there is a language barrier or limited English proficiency (LEP) requiring the need for a medically certified interpreter.

    Confirm if the patient may be hard of hearing, deaf, or in need of accessibility services, such as video remote interpreting (VRI).

    Don’t forget about the primary carepartners!

    Confirm if a primary carepartner, who may not live at the same residence, needs to be included in the virtual encounter. The current pandemic has prevented many primary carepartners from being directly alongside of their loved ones during their health care encounters due to social distancing and sheltering in place. This causes significant distress and can severely impact coordination of care and patient safety.

    Be prepared.

    Encourage patients and their carepartners to prepare a list of any concerning symptoms, discussion points, or questions prior to the virtual encounter. Remind patients to have a paper and pen ready to take notes as well as their insurance card, if needed. Don’t forget to remind patients to have a thermometer, blood pressure cuff, inhaler, or any other medical device readily available for the virtual encounter, if needed.

    Be clear on your hospital or practice’s payment processes. With the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in fraud attempts, with calls being made to collect various types of personal information and financial information over the phone. Proactively advise patients how to expect to manage payment for telemedicine services that are rendered to protect them from financial fraud.

    Did you know that Solutionreach is offering our telehealth service FREE during this pandemic (until July 31) with no contract? Learn more about SR Telehealth.

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    Grace Cordovano

    Grace Cordovano

    Grace Cordovano, PhD, BCPA, is a board-certified patient advocate specializing in the oncology space. She is the founder of Enlightening Results and co-founder of UnblockHealth. Dr. Cordovano is a healthcare navigating solutionist, patient experience enhancer, and data unblocker who is dedicated to empowering patients to live their best life where they are. Follow her on Twitter @GraceCordovano.

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