As times are changing, so is the field of medicine. 71% of healthcare providers are already using virtual healthcare tools in their practice. Whether your practice is currently providing virtual medicine, or just stepping into the space, we’ll explore how to develop a stronger telehealth strategy for 2022 and beyond.   

What is virtual healthcare?

Virtual health, also known as telehealth, are all-encompassing terms that include a range of technologies and services to provide remote medical care. It means interactions between doctors and patients become virtual. And although it’s often thought of as just video visits, virtual care includes messaging, apps, and phone calls.   

To access virtual healthcare, patients generally need internet and a smartphone or laptop. In some instances, patients might need advanced technology, such as a blood pressure monitor. 

Virtual healthcare can be used for at-home diagnosis, patient aftercare, or simple personal monitoring.  

Skeptical of telehealth? Don’t be. 82% of patients say that a virtual appointment is as effective as an in-person visit. 

The importance of telehealth in 2022

 Telehealth gained rapid popularity in 2020 due to COVID-19. Especially for high-risk patients who needed ongoing care, telehealth was the best option as it limited potentially life-threatening exposures to COVID-19.  

Going into 2021, online healthcare became the new normal. 64% of U.S. households used telehealth in 2021. Now, many patients actually prefer telehealth. And there are a variety of reasons including:  

  • It can decrease healthcare costs  
  • It saves travel time 
  • It increases accessibility in rural areas 

Out of all the reasons to choose telemedicine, convenience and infection control are the top reasons patients choose telehealth.  

Virtual healthcare provides benefits for your practice, too. It saves time for healthcare workers, allowing more patients to be seen and treated. Plus, it limits occupational exposure to COVID-19.   

Although virtual healthcare became popular due to COVID-19, 43% of Americans want to continue using telehealth even after the pandemic. 

3 types of telemedicine

While telehealth is an all-encompassing term, telemedicine is more specific. Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients using technology. There are 3 types of telemedicine: 

Store and forward

The data and signals are received from the patient and passed straight to a system. Asynchronous capture and transmission of images, videos, and sound—for example, patient sends a photo of their wound. 

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) 

This is using technology so patients can automatically monitor activity and pass on data to healthcare professionals. For example, monitoring and transmission of vital signs, including blood pressure or glucose levels. 

Interactive patient care (IPC)

This includes virtual consultations and one-to-one live chats, phone calls, or video chats. It’s any communication between the healthcare provider and their patient.  

Keeping the meanings of telehealth and telemedicine in mind, keep reading to learn how to navigate telemedicine in 2022 and beyond to achieve success! 

Virtual healthcare guide for 2022

How to get started

If your practice is just starting to enter the realm of telemedicine, don’t feel pressured to jump all-in to telemedicine right away. We’ll be outlining more advanced tips throughout the article, but if your practice is just getting started, here are some tips 

  • Utilizing free trials or pilots helps you try different options before committing.  
  • Check insurance coverage before making big investments. 

And most importantly: Start off modestly. To see if telemedicine is right for your practice, try: 

  • At-home STI testing 
  • At-home food sensitivity tests
Pick the right platform or app

Telemedicine is reliant on technology, but you have options. There are plenty of healthcare apps on the market. Choose the right one for your practice.  

It makes sense to have a specific platform or app for your practice, because generic platforms like Google Hangout and FaceTime could lead to costly HIPAA breaches. In 2020, HIPAA regulations were loosened to include these generic platforms, but they’re not the best choice. It’s also anticipated that these loosened restrictions won’t stick around forever. So, it makes sense to invest in a HIPAA compliant platform now.  

Consider using apps specifically made for telehealth, for example: Teladoc, MDBox, or AmWell. When looking for a telehealth app, look for apps that offer 

  • Easy/seamless integration 
  • User-friendly, intuitive design 
  • Specialty care solution 
  • Customization  
  • Data analytics 
Protect patient information

Even when you have a secure app, patient privacy is still a top priority.  

 To protect patient information, virtual healthcare providers need to know local, state, and federal telehealth regulations, and abide by them. Since these laws are constantly changing rapidly, use resources such as the Center for Connected Health Policy to stay on top of regulations. You can also provide extra privacy training for telemedicine providers. 

When it comes to telemedicine, patients need to be knowledgeable. Inform patients of the risks that come from using telehealth. Also, teach patients their own responsibilities when it comes to protecting their data. 

Know when it is most appropriate to use telemedicine

Here are examples in which telemedicine is often used: 

  • Chronic diseases 
  • Primary care 
  • Surgical care – pre- and post-appointments 
  • Mental health 
  • Pharmacy services 
  • At-home testing (STIs, genetic testing, hormone testing, and more) 

 But telemedicine is not the answer in every case. For example, it’s not an appropriate option when a hands-on physical examination is crucial to deliver the best care.   

An area where telemedicine isn’t often used, but can be leveraged, is addiction recovery. Adoption of telehealth technologies in substance abuse care was found to be less than 1%. Telemedicine could especially help reach patients in rural areas that don’t always have the same access to care or support.  

Providers need to develop a “webside” manner

Just because you’re not seeing your patients in-person, doesn’t mean acting with care isn’t necessary. Although it’s harder to be personable in virtual medicine appointments, it’s still a necessity. To develop a “webside” manner: 

  • Maintain consistent eye contact with the camera 
  • Set up quality lighting 
  • Provide services in a professional environment, dressed professionally 
  • Reduce background noises & visual distractions   

 Telemedicine can be just as effective as in-person visits, as long as telemedicine providers provide empathy to their patients and cater to their needs, just as they would in-person.  

Doctors need to engage the patient as a partner

When it comes to telemedicine, doctors need to be able to engage the patient as if they were a partner. The patient is no longer passive. For example, healthcare providers may need to talk patients through how to use healthcare tools. They may also need to explain how to set the camera up so the doctor can see what they need to see.  

Virtual visits should be seen as a collaboration between both parties more than ever before. For success, patients need to feel comfortable, especially because they are often allowing the provider into their home.   

Focus on strengthening patient access 

Not all patients have access to telemedicine. To create a great telehealth practice, focus on strengthening patient access. 

For patients lacking technology, suggest sources such as the Lifeline program, which provides low-income individuals with free or low-cost devices. 

Be aware of telehealth disparities, and don’t assume that certain people won’t accept telehealth services. This unconscious bias affects how many people can take advantage of telehealth. 28% of patients don’t choose telehealth services for their kids, simply because it was never offered to them.  

Continue addressing other telehealth obstacles. For example, when you face a language barrier, use a translator in 3-way video calls.  

Ōmcare can help improve your virtual healthcare 

Telehealth promises better convenience, access, and affordability. By providing new approaches to delivering care, telehealth can ultimately help patients around the world maintain a healthier lifestyle.  

While there is much promise in telehealth, it’s important to prioritize best practices of virtual healthcare. Our Ōmcare Home Health Hub® ensures patients can get their medicine and speak with their providers, pharmacist, or caregivers in real-time. 

If your practice is looking for a tool to help implement or improve your virtual healthcare strategy, reach out to Ōmcare for more information.