In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Australian Government made temporary telehealth items available through Medicare to help reduce the risk of transmission and provide a safer way for patients to receive medical assistance. This applies to patients of GPs, specialists, dentists, maxillofacial surgeons and mental health professionals, among others. The Medicare billing also provides refunds for telehealth, assisting people financially during a severe economic downturn. However, the Medicare billing for telehealth services will cease to exist in March 2021, so what happens next? How can healthcare professionals continue to provide optimum remote care that benefits the patient and aligns with the provider’s schedule and practice strategy?
Surveying your patients to provide the best experience
While there will be no refund to your patients for their telephone consults after March 2021, now is the time to start educating your patients on the value of telephone consults. Survey your patients for feedback and you’ll by surprised by the results. Those in full-time work are usually very happy to receive over-the-phone consultation and avoid having to take time out from work.
You could ask questions including: What time would best suit you for a telehealth consult? Would you be open to out of hours consults? Do you have the right technology to benefit? If you’ve already met with a specialist this way, how did you find it?
These types of questions can give you valuable insight into the times that work best for your patients, what you might need to improve, and how you can provide a better experience.
Tips to improve your service
Meanwhile, as we transition to the “new normal”, take the opportunity to ensure your audio and visual equipment and computer software is high quality. Upgrade if you need to. Telehealth consultations don’t allow doctors to pick up on visual cues as easily as face-to-face consults so high definition visual is a must.
Similarly, test your internet bandwidth and speed. You don’t want it to drop out and cut your consult short or lag and annoy your patients. If there are issues, call around and find a better provider.
It might be an idea to incorporate a second monitor, if you’re not operating with one already. This will allow you to meet with your patient on one monitor and record notes on the second or open any files such as medical imaging that you might need to discuss or share with your patient.
If you’ve not already adjusted your communication style to suit telehealth consultations, it might be an idea to record a practice consult and observe how you’re communicating. Are you looking at the patient for the majority of the consult? Are you speaking too quickly? Could you slow it down for them to hear and understand better (this is especially important for elderly patients)? Are you close enough to establish rapport and is there anything distracting in the background?
Telehealth on your terms
As the GP, you can decide which patients are suitable for a telehealth consultation and how to fit the consultations into your schedule.
For example, would you prefer to fit your telehealth consultations into the beginning of your day or end it with them? You might like to have two blocks of time at which to schedule these appointments, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. You might even like to organise them for a certain day of the week.
The “new normal” provides this flexibility and the best thing we can do as practices is take advantage of it and pivot to fulfil each opportunity to grow our revenue while providing our patients with care.