COVID-19 has significantly shifted the telehealth landscape, with restrictions lifted or relaxed for visit frequency, out-of-state licensed providers, and supervisory practices. Simultaneously, many healthcare providers have been directed to delay adult elective and non-essential care, so they are turning to telehealth for essential services. Government payers have supported this transition, increasing reimbursements and speed to payment for telehealth services, with private insurers following suit.
This removal of barriers in light of an urgent need to enable communication has created space for the rapid deployment of telehealth capabilities, where getting back to work has been the immediate focus. Rapid deployment should not, however, be confused with the building of a broader telehealth strategy or with deep investments in new technology, although those considerations will likely be next on the list for most providers. Rather, rapid deployment is tactical—it’s about keeping the solution simple, the change manageable, expectations clear, and getting to work immediately.
We have identified a path that allows organizations to move quickly while simultaneously establishing a foundation for longer-term telehealth strategies. When focused on tool selection, process development, change management, and workforce operations, a successful rapid telehealth deployment is possible in a matter of just a few weeks.
Rapid tool selection is necessary for rapid deployment, and finding a solution begins by looking at what’s already in use. If an existing or common tool exists that the organization is familiar with, a rapid deployment is not the time to select and implement a strategic new piece of software. When no solution exists a commonly available tool like FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, or Zoom should be pursued.
Process development, much more than tool selection, is the key to success in a rapid deployment scenario. Processes for starting and stopping an encounter all the way through billing will need to be developed and shared and existing policies and procedures specific to compliance and privacy will need to be updated, reviewed, and revised. Those processes that depend on clinical systems or involve patients should be prioritized for immediate focus.
Project and change management are the most critical external drivers of success. Appropriate planning, training, and communication are essential to a cohesive change management plan, which can be developed quickly and should focus on three main areas: stakeholders, documentation, and communication. In the absence of available PM/CM resources having experienced PM/CM assistance allows staff to focus on areas of clinical or revenue value creation (protocols, RCM, etc.).
Training your workforce to practice through telehealth requires being able to monitor, support, and respond to the needs of both clinical and administrative staff, from coordinating and managing teams to tracking work and results. This may necessitate the development of new goals, metrics, and expectations, as well as the creation of reports and other tools to enable data/system access and transparency to managers.
Once the COVID-19 crisis abates, telehealth will have truly established itself as a great option for most settings and services not requiring in-person contact, and, in time, maybe even for some that do (labs, etc.). Telehealth addresses longstanding needs around emergency-department diversion, transportation, travel, and other access barriers, patient engagement between visits, and the monitoring of patients with chronic conditions. It also provides a highly viable avenue for prescriptions, contact lens orders, and behavioral health visits, as well as new patient acquisition, and triage for COVID-19.
The immediate success of a rapid telehealth rollout hinges on a pragmatic, tactical approach. The considerations outlined above should serve as a guide in the deployment of minimum viable telehealth capabilities, while helping set the tone for longer-term telehealth strategy. Whether your organization is currently offering telehealth or not, West Monroe can help discuss your challenges and how you can take steps toward creating a long-term strategy.
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