According to an IHS report, the number of patients using telehealth, or telemedicine, is expected to rise to seven million in 2018, up from less than 350,000 in 2013. With this explosive growth, practices providing physical healthcare, including chiropractic care and physical therapy can no longer afford to ignore the opportunity telemedicine provides.
With telemedicine software, you meet with patients in real-time and render services over high-resolution video or audio. The patient doesn’t have to make the trip into your office, saving time and effort, and you’re able to monitor the patient’s vitals, share images, scans, studies and more. This gives both providers and patients an unprecedented level of flexibility for both treatment and patient communication. Let’s talk through some of the common questions around telemedicine for physical healthcare providers.
Q1: How does telemedicine work for physical healthcare providers?
While chiropractors and therapists are not able to perform physical manipulations such as adjustments without the patient present in their office, they are able to communicate with patients regarding their symptoms, assess the patients progress, address issues, and offer at-home remedies and exercises along with other help for the patient, all while making the most efficient use of time for everyone involved.
Telemedicine augments rather than replaces in-person treatment in the musculoskeletal world where treatment is often hands-on. Follow-up treatment, home treatment plans, questions and answers and consultations are all areas where telemedicine can add value.
Using this type of technology can also help patients establish the confidence they need to care for their musculoskeletal conditions, learn from their chiropractic doctors and physical therapists and make healthcare more accessible. (More on telemedicine implementation.)
Q2: What do patients think about telemedicine?
There are a number of reasons fueling the telemedicine revolution, first and foremost being the benefits it offers patients. For these patients, being able to consult with their doctor from the privacy and comfort of their own home, with no need to travel each time they suffer an ache, pain, or cough is a very attractive option. Telemedicine gives patients greater freedom to schedule appointments in a way that meets their own needs, eases the problems of patients living in rural locations, and allows them to receive care where they are most comfortable. As an added benefit, telemedicine can also help lower the cost of care, making access to quality healthcare a reality for all.
Q3: How does telemedicine impact patient care?
For physical healthcare as well as other specialties, diagnosing and treating patients earlier can have improved outcomes, often with lower cost of treatment. Telemedicine can improve access to healthcare and encourage patients to seek treatment earlier than they would with office visits. Healthcare outcomes can also be dependent on patient behavior post-care. This is where telemedicine can make a big impact, by opening up opportunities for continued care and communication between provider and patient.
Q4: Will telemedicine benefit my practice?
For providers, telemedicine offers real benefits to their practice. Telemedicine software makes it possible to provide flexible care for patients from remote locations, improving efficiency and appointment turnover, and promoting successful completion of treatment plans.
Adding telemedicine to your office can also improve your practice’s productivity. With telemedicine, patients are less likely to cancel, decreasing your no-shows. This allows you to optimize your schedule and patient flow, while maximizing revenue. You can fit more appointments into your busy schedule and give patients instant feedback without time-consuming office visits.
Q5: What federal and state regulations do I have to be aware of?
You should be aware of federal and state regulations, practice acts and standards of care for each state in which you plan to practice telemedicine. There are laws that can prohibit you from practicing telemedicine across state lines, so be sure to check on these. Even if you don’t plan to have a physical presence in the state, long-arm laws may grant state courts jurisdiction over out-of-state individuals whose actions have potentially harmed a local resident
Q6: How do I stay HIPAA compliant when using telemedicine?
It is important to stay on top of HIPAA compliance when it comes to the practice of telemedicine since the transmission of data to and from various locations increases the risk of inappropriate disclosure and data breaches. You must implement privacy and security safeguards at all points of exposure, including at the originating site, across the transmission medium, and at the distant site. Examples of these safeguards include data encryption, user authentication, password security, patient verification technologies, protected wireless networks, data tracking and auditing, and more.
Your patient communications must be encrypted, and tools like Skype, while convenient, don’t deliver the level of secured required by law. Use encrypted emails, consult with cyber-security experts when setting up your telemedicine practice, and develop a well-written consent form that addresses the risk factors of telemedicine.
Q7: What about billing and coding and getting paid?
Billing for telemedicine can be tricky and can vary by state and by insurer so you’ll want to be aware of these. Verify the patient’s coverage before the visit, know the telemedicine guidelines for each payer you work with, ask the payers which CPT codes are eligible for telemedicine billing and be sure to use the appropriate GT modifier that tells the insurer that the service was delivered via telemedicine to ensure payment.
Q8: What kind of risk management do I need for telemedicine?
Full disclosure and informed consent are vital when it comes to telemedicine. Patients should be aware of both the advantages and limitations of telemedicine and a well written consent form is a must. You should also consult with your insurance agent to determine if your current policy covers internet-based services.
Q9: What are my technology requirements?
You will need a telemedicine software program, a computer or mobile device, a built-in or external microphone, and a camera with video capability. It's recommended to have a high-speed internet connection to avoid breaks in audio or video.
While technological advances have helped advance telemedicine, technological failures can be one of its biggest drawbacks. Networks are subject to interruptions, delays, system overloads, or other technical difficulties. Because telemedicine is wholly dependent on working technology, its effectiveness is severely hampered when technology fails. Researching and choosing the best hardware and software can ensure your telemedicine practice is a success.
Telemedicine is not intended to completely replace patient care in a clinical setting, but it can make your practice more flexible to meet your patient’s needs and provide services in a greater capacity.