One of the trends that has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic is the use of telehealth to keep the American workforce healthy and safe. I’m Eddie Stahl and Net Health’s expert to support clinical solutions in Occupational Medicine (OccMed) and have seen how telehealth has benefited practices and patients. OccMed providers have already been among those at the forefront of virtual medicine, and the pandemic revealed important reasons to increase its use. Here are some tips to start a telehealth program.1
How Can Telehealth Benefit OccMed?
What is occupational health or medicine and why does telehealth matter? Employers that partner with OccMed practices have always given high priority to a healthy workforce, a goal that has become more difficult over the past year. As more have discovered the time-saving convenience of telehealth, their employees have found greater access to care.
OccMed practices across the country, from California2 to Pennsylvania,3 “pivoted” early in the crisis to increase virtual offerings and encourage video visits. One of the imperatives that made telehealth indispensable, especially in those early days, was that patients were uncomfortable with the unknown risk of infection encountered in a medical environment.
Many providers now expect these advantages to long outlast COVID and continue to benefit patients, employers, and the practices themselves.
In March of this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) accelerated its expansion of telehealth, a move that made it easier and less expensive to implement in OccMed offices.4 Telehealth’s logistical economies fit well with OccMed, where patients often need repeat visits that don’t require in-person examinations, and employers are more focused than ever on healthy, productive workplaces.5
Is Telehealth Better?
OccMed providers looking to compare telehealth to in-person care didn’t have much to go on until recently, but a newly released study of telehealth in rehab practices is providing some much-anticipated data. Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes (FOTO) a Net Health company, discovered that both patient satisfaction and functional status outcomes were about the same among telehealth and in-person patients. In fact, telehealth patients averaged two to three fewer visits. The results suggest that telehealth may improve efficiency without sacrificing quality of care.6
Putting Together a Telehealth System
Given how well-suited telehealth is for occupational therapy programs, practices will want to set up nimble, efficient telehealth platforms. Here are some suggested actions to make virtual OccMed work well in the private practice:
1. Develop workflows.
As part of staff training, a walk-through of telehealth systems is helpful, so that everyone understands how it will work. Then document the process to encourage fidelity.
2. Create distinct visit types.
New telehealth rehab therapy patients have different concerns than from established telehealth patients. Addressing needs will be easier if these patient types are labeled separately. Reporting will be clearer as well.
3. Contact frequent payers.
Tell payers about changes in patient evaluation and care and ask if coding and billing need to be altered. For carriers who follow Medicare guidelines, it shouldn’t be a problem.
4. Code visits to ensure payment.
For now, and depending on the carrier, you may be able to use the same place of service (POS) code regardless of whether a patient used telehealth or came in for a visit.
5. Adopt a virtual platform that’s HIPAA compliant.
Medicare doesn’t currently require videoconferencing systems to conform to HIPAA privacy regulations. That can make it easier for practices to use videoconferencing apps such as FaceTime and Zoom. However, the easing of these guidelines will likely end in the near future. Therefore, OccMed practices that plan to continue using telehealth after the pandemic are choosing HIPAA compliant platforms.
It’s beyond doubt that telehealth will do more than help us get through the Coronavirus crisis; it will be a big part of the future of American healthcare. For many OccMed practices, this comes as no surprise. Clearly, telehealth’s recent surge is here to stay.
Occupational medicine practices can rely on the Agility® (Net Health for Occupational Medicine), a software solution that can establish protocols for each patient.7 Net Health has also partnered with Updox to offer a HIPAA compliant telehealth solution with its occupational health manager software platform to make patient management easier.
1. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Telehealth Claims Spike More Than 8,000% Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Government Waivers,” July 8, 2020.
2. Net Health, “Groundbreaking Net Health Study Compares Telehealth Rehab Therapy with In-Clinic Visits,” September 22, 2020.