Telehealth is now an established and fast-growing part of healthcare delivery. More and more patients are trying remote consultations and most of them like the experience. Telehealth has now become essential to most practices in the current pandemic situation.
So, what are the best options for a doctor to set up a virtual practice? Business and personal meeting software such as Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp do provide the two-way audio and video communication necessary for virtual medical consultations, but do they meet the requirements for medical/clinical use?
The meeting platforms provide very little for a doctor apart from audio and video features. A dedicated telehealth platform, on the other hand, is specifically designed for medical offices and doctors. A good telehealth platform allows the quick setting up of a customized virtual practice. Such an online office allows patients to book an appointment and make payments within the platform. The software sends reminders to reduce dropouts and no-shows and improves communication between the patient and the doctor. Let’s look at some of the major points of differences:
Comparison of Telehealth platforms and Business Meeting platforms
Business & Personal Video Meeting Apps
|Audience and Purpose||Designed for medical consultation with specific features useful to physicians, practice managers clinics and patients.||Designed for business and personal meetings|
|Appointment booking||Can be booked online. The patient can see the doctor’s calendar and choose a convenient slot. The software sends reminders.
Virtual waiting room available, if patient arrives early
|The patient has to phone the clinic and take the appointment given. Clunky.|
|Payments||Can be handled with ease within the platform||No such convenience|
|Consent||Patient’s consent for telehealth call is taken and saved as per the law in many countries||No such feature|
|Consent for Call Recording||The virtual consultation can be recorded, with the patient’s consent||Recording can be done without the other party’s knowledge|
|HIPAA||Fully compliant platforms available||Not compliant; use dependent on the temporary waiver.|
|Patient records||Can integrate with existing EHR||No such provision|
A telehealth software can integrate with practice management software (PMS) and Electronic health records (EHR), e-prescriptions, and several other functions required for the doctor-patient interaction can be handled seamlessly by such an integrated system. Doctors can work smarter, increase productivity and reimbursements, and improve satisfaction among patients. In the long run, reducing retraining requirements and saving staff time.
Some health plans and payors allow the use of shared medical appointments (SMAs). A telehealth platform that allows one-to-many interaction works very well for SMAs, eliminating the need for a large space and the risk of cross-infections. SMAs are very satisfying for patients with chronic diseases and optimize physician time. Doctors who have never tried in-person SMAs can do it on a telehealth platform.
The security of electronic communication is very important. Telehealth providers have the responsibility to safeguard the patient’s data and confidentiality. Two important Acts, HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), mandate the measures to be taken for security, patient confidentiality, record keeping, etc, and also describe the penalties for non-compliance.
A telehealth consultation involves the exchange of patient’s medical history, images, laboratory reports, diagnoses and treatment (described as protected health information, or PHI). Apart from this, the patient’s name, address, credit card information, social security number, telephone number, email ID and other sensitive information is also shared. A healthcare facility, being a HIPAA Covered Entity, is responsible for the security and confidentiality of this data. Hence, it becomes vital to use only those software that have adequate encryption and other safeguards that meet the stringent requirements of HIPAA.
Generic Meeting platforms like Skype and Zoom are not HIPAA compliant platforms. While the Department of Health has issued temporary waivers for regulatory compliance and allowed the use of social media and generic meeting platforms during the COVID emergency, in the long term, doctors adopting telehealth will have to comply with all of the legal provisions.
When a practice initiates telehealth, not only the staff, but each patient has to be trained in the use of the platform. Doing it twice is a sheer waste of time and effort. Besides, entering telehealth with a generic meeting software will entail a period of disruption when the waivers end.
Telehealth platforms have special advantages for patients, too. Appointment booking, payments, and the consultation can all be done conveniently. Their medical information as well as personal and financial information is kept secure and confidential. The entire consultation video can be recorded, but only if the patient consents. With e-prescription, the medicines would just reach the patient.
Unlike the widely-used generic video calling apps, such as Zoom and Skype, telehealth platforms are specifically designed to conduct a safe, secure, compliant, and convenient virtual medical consultation for doctors and patients.
So, start telehealth right with the right platform!
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