6 questions to ask when exploring the financial benefits of virtual care
Practices around the country have found virtual care invaluable during the COVID-19 public health crisis. As we move into a new phase of the pandemic, opportunities are arising. Practice leaders are discovering that with the right approach, they can tap into new financial benefits of virtual care, thanks to shifting patient attitudes and new reimbursement plans.
We talked with medical billing experts Abby Arnold, VP of client relations and operations; Connor Doyle, director of analytics; and Melody Jajou, director of RCM and operations at Coronis Health to compile a list of questions that practices should consider as they move forward with a fresh virtual care strategy that can help to improve healthcare business performance in a changing world.
1 | How can I maximize my reimbursement strategy?
Before the pandemic, virtual care delivery was highly location-specific and heavy constraints on reimbursements held providers back. However, when the pandemic arrived in the U.S. and things began to shut down, Medicare and commercial payers had to pivot quickly and implement flexibilities, including telehealth waivers.1 Now, many practices are investing in telehealth and even building their business plans around it.
Even with patients coming back into healthcare offices, healthcare professionals have an opportunity to provide the best care possible by enhancing what they offer patients through virtual care. At the same time, virtual care is now available to many groups that were previously underserved. For example, there are now opportunities for additional touchpoints with patients in rural areas, who have to travel long distances to access in-person care. Payers have recognized the impact of virtual care on care quality and outcomes, and now they're reacting. Practices should keep an eye on changes in reimbursement for virtual care and look out for future opportunities.
- Strategize about how virtual care can complement office visits at your practice
- Get ahead of value-based incentives and reimbursements by increasing touchpoints with patients through virtual care
- Educate yourself about emerging changes in reimbursement programs2
2 | How should I adapt my marketing & patient communication strategy?
Marketing may not have been priority number one for most practices last year, but it will likely be key to realizing financial success in the future. This is especially true in today's age of value-based care (VBC) reimbursement models, since driving preventive patient behaviors is critical to navigating performance-based contracts. Providers need to focus on four specific parts of their marketing and communication strategies:
1. Raise awareness about prevention. Through email, social media and mobile health applications, providers have an opportunity to provide education and encourage patients to live healthy lifestyles to prevent or manage chronic conditions
2. Design targeted communications. Patient blasts are great! But marketing that supports your next phase of telehealth may require targeted communications specific to location, medical specialty, condition and even the individual
3. Address patient churn. Your marketing needs to prioritize maintaining current patients while encouraging referrals and word of mouth recommendations
4. Target insurance (and other stakeholders). Practices will need to work on actively building trust and relationships with payers, who have valuable insight into telehealth benefits, as allies in delivering virtual care. Tapping into this requires talking with them and other stakeholders, like suppliers. Make sure to contact your payer and supplier reps to learn what support they might offer in your virtual care marketing initiatives.
One of the key concerns to address here is the patient's financial experience. Patients might be over their mistrust of telehealth, but many are still wondering whether they'll be stuck with the bill for your new virtual care program. Your marketing is a great way to proactively address that concern with open and transparent communications.
- Integrate marketing into your VBC initiatives
- Create targeted patient communications
- Use marketing to solicit recommendations from patients
- Target and communicate with business allies
- Address patient concerns about cost
3 | How can I implement virtual care to support my existing patient experience initiatives?
The pandemic has brought about a huge uptick in virtual care, such as remote patient monitoring (RPM) services, but practices should understand that finding alignment between existing patient experience initiatives and virtual care options is an art.
Consider your goals and objectives: What challenges are you trying to solve with virtual care for your practice and patients? This can help you identify appropriate offerings for specific patient groups and determine the best communications to deploy.
The key to finding your best application of virtual care is making sure everything goes back to communication and humanizing the experience. Virtual care should help patients stay involved in their treatment plans and care goals and, ultimately, make them more confident healthcare consumers.
- Define your virtual care goals and objectives
- Analyze the virtual patient experience
- Consider current patient experience initiatives and how virtual care can fit in
- Create open communication channels with patients
- Stay on top of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance
Provide care, perform exams and stay connected to your patients when you can't be face-to-face, with telehealth and virtual care.
4 | How can we address the needs of underserved populations?
Achieving financial benefits of virtual care while reaching deeper into underserved populations may be challenging, but it's definitely possible. Where you find your synergy is going to evolve over time, and it may shift with updates to reimbursement and political changes at the federal and regional levels.
Keep an eye out for ways to align with community-based initiatives, such as schools and libraries offering programs to increase tech literacy in underserved populations (who often struggle with access to and familiarity with telehealth technologies).
You might also find guidance outside the healthcare space by looking at how other organizations are connecting with the underserved populations you want to support. Options like charitable funding with state and federal assistance can also extend your reach. Be creative and flexible with the methods you use in exploring and strengthening the financial benefits of virtual care efforts while serving vulnerable patient groups.
- Keep an eye out for changes at the federal level that could present opportunities
- Balance your focus on business with community outreach by exploring new options
5 | How should we adjust our staffing strategy?
Making virtual care make financial sense could mean taking a fresh look at your staffing. You may need to invest in staff to help implement new technologies that you are introducing – and the training required. Your staff will need to make changes and adapt, especially as new regulations emerge and new opportunities come up for reducing manual inputs and improving workflows and automation.
- Invest in your staff
- Examine your needs, risks and physical touchpoints with patients
- Embrace possible future changes
6 | How can our pandemic experiences inform our virtual care efforts?
You have had a wealth of experiences and lessons from this pandemic – make sure they don't go to waste! Examine how well you were (or weren't) prepared in terms of staffing, technology, office flow, workflows and more. Take a look at how you pivoted, what happened and how you can incorporate these results into a future plan of action to get in front of the next wave of change.
Wherever possible, examine data on patient outcomes and business efficiency – and don't overlook opportunities to learn from other practices. As you dig deeper, consider doing a full task analysis of your organization, as well as business continuity/disaster response (BCDR) planning.
As you refine your virtual care financial strategy, you'll develop your own best practices, but here are a few to get you started:
- Have a business continuity plan in place – use lessons from the pandemic to inform it
- Prioritize the use of data to monitor the success of your efforts
- Keep a cash reserve
- Prioritize the safety of both patients and clinicians as the pandemic evolves
- Shift away from mail where appropriate, in favor of electronic communication and payments
- Keep an eye on state-specific and specialty-specific trends and regulations
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