Last month we looked at the viability of telemedicine as the world moves past the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic saw practices of all sizes and types adopt telemedicine as a way to survive, or even thrive, during a very difficult time.
With much of the world in a better place with respect to the pandemic, medical practices who expanded their telemedicine are now faced with a decision: roll back their telemedicine offerings to pre-pandemic levels, stay where they are at, or expand.
Depending on how your practice is doing in terms of attracting and retaining new patients, this decision can be an easy one or it can be very difficult. To help you evaluate your options, we put together a list of five things that you need to consider before you make a decision.
- Patients – The very first thing you should consider is your patients. How would reducing, staying put, or expanding your telemedicine offerings impact them? If you roll back, then you might lose patients who have grown accustomed to virtual visits over the past two years. If you stay put, then patients who are looking for a provider with more options might look elsewhere. If you expand, then this could limit the number of in-person appointments which can upset those who like in-person visits. Your best option might be a survey, along with a discussion over time with your patients. This will give you the opportunity to get a feel for what your patients are looking for. Keep in mind you may end up losing some patients regardless of which direction you go. However, you will most likely open up other opportunities.
- Staff – Next, you have to consider what impact this will have on your staff. Has your staff grown accustomed to working with patients remotely? Has this allowed some of your team to work from home? Would a change in direction require a change in how a large number of your staff lives or works? These are all questions that you need to answer. It would benefit you to speak to your team, especially those in leadership roles, to get a feel for how this might impact them. This is not to say that you let this solely sway your decision, but it is good to know so that you are not surprised and so that you can be prepared for how your team may react.
- Financial – Eventually every business has to look how a big decision will impact the bottom line. First you have to make sure that your billing knowledge and process (more below) are where they need to be. Next you have to determine how reducing, staying put, or expanding will impact your incoming revenue. Should you expect to see a decrease or increase in new patients? Should you expect a noticeable number of patients leaving your practice? How will this impact your staff? Will you have to hire and train new employees? You probably will not get concrete answers, but if you should be able to outline a few potential scenarios that will help you better understand the scope of the decision you need to make.
- Process, Capabilities, and Logistics – This one point could probably be it’s very own blog topic, but we’ll try to summarize it as best we can in this one bullet point. As stated above you have to make sure that your staff understands how different types of visits need to be billed. This may require additional training if you choose to expand. If nothing else, communication will be key. Then, depending on which direction you choose to go, you need to have the correct processes in place. For example if you have been focused on more telemedicine during the last two years but you want to reduce it, then are you confident that your staff is ready to welcome people back in your office? Conversely, if you choose to expand your telemedicine offerings, do you have the internet bandwidth to handle more demand? Do you have the hardware such as computers and cameras? This may seem tedious, but in the end you will be glad that you took the time to understand exactly what your practice is capable of doing.
- Legal and HIPAA – This is another topic worthy of its own blog, but we will not go into specifics here. What we will say is that as a medical practice you must remember to stay on the right side of federal and state regulations in any situation. However if you choose to expand your telemedicine offerings you’ll want to take special care to make sure that anything extra you do via telemedicine falls within state and federal regulations. You will also want to make sure that anything and everything you do protects your patients HIPAA rights. Keeping your data secure must be a top priority no matter how you choose to proceed.
- The Future – Last, you will want to take some time to determine where you want your practice to be five or ten years from now. It is easy to focus on today or the immediate future, but the decisions that you make now will impact the future of your practice. You may not want to expand your telemedicine offerings , but if competitors with similar capabilities who have similar patients do offer more telemedicine, then that competitor may have an edge on you. However if you decide that you want to move your practice in a different direction, then maybe staying put is the right decision for you. The important thing is to have an idea of where you want to go and have a plan to get there.
As we demonstrated in our blog last month, telemedicine is not going anywhere. In fact , chances are that it will most likely grow and become a more integral part of the healthcare system in this country. This does not mean that you automatically should adopt or expand your telemedicine capabilities. Rather you should take everything that we listed above into consideration and then make the best decision for where you want to take your practice moving forward. If you do this then you will increase the likelihood of your practice being successful in a post-pandemic world.