Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team at Lafayette General Health was faced with the monumental task of integrating more than 70 practices and 20 specialties into our telehealth platform in only a matter of days. This task included onboarding employed physician groups and independent local practices, resulting in more than 5,700 telehealth visits over 30 days – up from an average of 30 visits per month prior to the pandemic.
The challenge we faced right out of the gate was how to arm our health care team with the knowledge to pull off the biggest implementation we’ve ever attempted in the shortest amount of time. These are some best practices that led to our success:
1. Provide concise and frequent communication
Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate. During a crisis, more information is always better than not enough. Radio silence can be wrongly interpreted as inaction, which leads to mistrust.
PDFs worked best for our group to quickly share valuable information. Our telehealth and ambulatory teams created PDFs that included screenshots the providers could use for step-by-step instructions. These documents were emailed to the end users and their office managers. We also printed handouts for physicians who don’t use email often.
2. Train doctors and staff on patient education
This is new territory for our clinical staff who have suddenly become our front-line telehealth trainers for our patients. It’s vital that they have easy access not only to detailed instructions but also our IT staff for assistance.
We’ve found it helpful for the front office staff to experience a telehealth visit for themselves. Leadership encouraged staff to sign up and walk through a practice visit with their doctor.
At the onset of the implementation, we offered demonstrations through virtual meetings to educate all front office staff on how to schedule. This was a great way to educate a multitude of employees at the same time.
3. Be available
Being available to the IT telehealth team and the providers as much as possible was paramount to the success of our implementation. It’s instilled trust and is the fastest way for me to receive feedback about our communication efforts and how well the telehealth program is working. Being available to communicate to our providers has allowed our IT team to move quickly in making necessary changes.
Time spent talking to our doctors has allowed us to hear their pain points firsthand, and our team is empowered to focus on quick resolution. I’ve made myself available through telephone, text and emails at all times, responding promptly to encourage continued communication.
4. Plan for connectivity issues
If you’re like us and serve a rural community, be prepared to deal with connectivity issues on the patient side. Having a backup plan for those patients who can’t connect to a video application will be important to ensure they can get the care they need. We offer a telephone option in instances where the patient can’t participate via video. This allows providers to stay on schedule and not be delayed by technical difficulties.
5. Know more than the IT
Most questions I’ve encountered aren’t IT-related. The hot topics include billing, coding and documentation. It’s been a moving target due to all the regulatory changes, but with help from our revenue cycle and clinical documentation improvement teams, we’re able to provide guidance.
Having the modifiers added “on the back end” simplifies the coding process for providers and contributes to their positive experience. This is accomplished by attaching the appropriate modifiers and service code locations to our telehealth and telephonic visit encounters.
6. Don’t be shocked by “lost causes”
In these uncertain times, be ready for even your least engaged doctors to step up and request access to new technologies. Their open-armed willingness to adopt new practices might be astonishing, but don’t be surprised. Their desire to care for their patients will ultimately drive their motivation to try new things.
Finding common ground has always aided me in making progress with those less willing to change, and in these unprecedented times it’s been easy to bond over the shared goal of staying connected to our patients and delivering safe care to the community we serve.