The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people access healthcare. 

At the height of the pandemic, patients couldn’t get most of their basic medical needs met in person. That led to a boom in virtual healthcare.  In fact, “telehealth use has increased 38x from the pre-COVID baseline.” 

Video chat forms the core of virtual healthcare. So, it’s not surprising that there’s been a 300% increase in the number of consumers who prefer video chat over phone calls since the pandemic began. Your patients are expecting video chats that are secure and professional, lead them closer to a diagnosis, and provide empathetic care.

As a medical professional, it’s necessary to adapt to the new norms of customer service and experience. Virtual appointments are here to stay (even in the post-pandemic world). 

But it’s critical to learn the best practices and legal requirements before incorporating virtual care into your practice. 

Here are some key considerations.

Before Getting Started

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Medical privacy is a major concern with virtual healthcare. In a Deloitte study, 33% of physicians expressed low enthusiasm for virtual healthcare particularly because of security and privacy concerns. A Zoom, WhatsApp, or Skype call isn’t the way to go because those platforms aren’t set up to follow Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines. 

Sure, those platforms are familiar to patients and, therefore, are more convenient to use. But they expose your patient’s sensitive medical information to security risks.  So, it’s important to find a HIPAA-compliant video chat tool.

If your practice is based in Canada, you must comply with cross-Canada virtual care licensure requirements. Simply put, you have to follow the licensure laws of the Canadian province where you’re licensed and where your patient is located. It’s also best to get insured with the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) so that your practice is legally protected. 

Now that the legal aspect is covered, let’s dive into the 9 steps to get started with virtual care. 

9 Steps to Get Started with Virtual Care

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1. Choose a Virtual Care Solution for Your Practice

There are many virtual tools on the market. When choosing a virtual care solution, you ultimately want one that’s going to cause minimal disruption to your current workflows and minimal disruption to your clients’ lives.

How do you know which virtual care solution is right for you? The best virtual care solution for your practice should meet five criteria. Assess the options you have based on these criteria and you’ll find a solution that suits your needs.

  • Provide top-tier data security and protection for you and your patients.
  • Follow clinical protocols despite being in a virtual context.
  • Be easy-to-use so that patients aren’t frustrated by the experience.
  • Have a future-thinking outlook with a design ready for future virtual care applications.
  • Have built-in electronic health records and interoperability with other patient information management systems you already use.

Once these five things are in place, it’s time to inform your team and patients about your virtual care service. 

2. Notify Your Team and Patients

Proper training is important for your team. They should understand your virtual care process, how to answer patient questions, and how to offer the right support depending on the patient’s needs. 

Patients who are calm under normal circumstances can become easily annoyed and frustrated when their health is at risk, so your virtual appointment process should be as seamless as possible. 

Let your patients know you’re offering this service. But also provide them with resources that help them better understand what they need to do. A FAQ sheet is one of many resources you could provide. 

3. Create a FAQ Resource About Your New Virtual Care Service

Before providing your patients and team with a FAQ sheet, you should first get answers to your burning questions about virtual healthcare. Some of these questions from a provider’s perspective are answered in this FAQ sheet from the US Department of Health and Civil Services.

It’s important to make everything about your virtual care service crystal clear from the beginning. You know your patients and already have a sense of the questions they typically ask your receptionist for in-person visits. Start there. You can reframe those questions within the digital context.

Also, your FAQ sheet should include answers to these questions:

  • Will our conversations be recorded?
  • How are recorded conversations protected?
  • What medical issues are covered in your virtual care service?
  • How do I know whether I should set a virtual appointment or go to the hospital?
  • How will I get my prescription? 
  • What technology will I need to check my vitals etc.?

There’s something else you should do before fully launching your virtual care services. Get your patient’s signed consent. 

You already know that data privacy is a major issue in the virtual world. The number of patient records that were breached in the second half of 2020 increased by more than 180%. Those breaches mainly came from business associates, not the virtual healthcare providers themselves. 

Scary, huh? The legal impact of such breaches could greatly affect your practice, so consult a lawyer for help with creating a digital patient contract. All your patients should sign that contract before you work with them. Sign Now is a HIPAA-compliant electronic signature provider that would work well for this purpose.

But can all your patient’s medical issues be covered virtually?

5. Determine What’s Suitable for Virtual Care 

This is a delicate issue. Some jurisdictions have laws that govern the medical issues that can be treated virtually, so it’s always best to first look at the laws of both your patient’s region and yours before outlining what’s suitable for virtual care.

Generally, medical professionals use virtual appointments to treat common illnesses, such as colds and rashes. Clinicians, such as psychiatrists and therapists, can also easily have virtual one-on-one sessions with their clients. Patients also have the option to schedule ongoing care (or a follow-up visit) if necessary.

So, what’s the best way to schedule virtual appointments?

6. Schedule Your Virtual Appointments 

Virtual appointment setting requires more than a Calendly link. There are 4 steps to creating a successful virtual appointment process for your team:

  • Get full control of your call forwarding.
  • Organize your information in a way that makes it easy for your virtual receptionist and patient to understand.
  • Use an appointment-setting service that sets patient appointments in real-time and adds them to web-based booking software, such as JaneApp
  • Keep your virtual team up-to-date with what’s happening. 

Now that the virtual appointment is set, how can you prepare for it?

7. How to Prepare for Your Virtual Appointment

Here are some tips to help you prepare for your virtual appointment:

  • Ask your virtual receptionist to ensure the patient has a signed contract on file. If not, ensure one is signed before the appointment.
  • Create an intake form that provides you with all the information you need about the patient’s medical information prior to the appointment. 
  • Ensure the patient completes the intake form at least an hour before the virtual appointment.
  • Review the intake form before the virtual appointment and jot down a list of follow-up questions you want to ask during the call.
  • Set the tone for the appointment by minimizing distractions. Both you and your patient should ensure that all of your focus is on what’s happening in the appointment. Both you and your patient should close the extra tabs, put your pets and kids in the other room, turn off your phone, and leave the snacking for after the meeting.

The next step is providing your patient with the best quality care during (and after) the call.

8. Demonstrate Virtual Care Etiquette While in Virtual Appointments

Virtual appointments feel very different from in-person visits. Your patients are already very intimidated. Your aim is to help them feel as comfortable as possible so that you can share the next best steps for them.

Here are some things you can do to make your patients more comfortable:

  • Be warm and friendly.
  • Show empathy towards their situation.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Ensure the patient feels heard and understood.
  • Be as clear as possible about treatment options.
  • Offer opportunities for the patient to ask questions.

Regardless of the illness, it’s good to follow up with patients to see how they’re doing.  

9. Schedule Follow-Up Appointments

Your virtual receptionist can use your appointment-setting service to schedule follow-up appointments with your patients. Whether it’s for in-person treatment or another virtual consultation, these follow-up appointments will ensure your patients get the treatment they need. 

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Wrapping Up

Virtual appointments will continue to increase moving forward. An easily accessible and well-structured virtual appointment process helps you provide quality medical care when your patients need it most. It’s important now more than ever for you to embrace virtual appointments as part of your medical practice. 

Smiledog helps small businesses scale by freeing up their time and improving their overall customer experience with a reliable, specialized team of experts that handle booking your patients’ appointments and answering their calls. Reach out to us to learn more about our appointment setting and virtual receptionist services.