The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted healthcare in many ways.
One of the big positives is the fast-tracking of the use of telehealth services in Australia.
As the founder of Telehealth School and Consulting, I know the huge impact video and phone consults make for General Practitioners. These include time savings for both you and your patients, clinic cost reductions, and health benefits for your team by reducing the chances of infectious transmission.
Currently, Medicare funds GP video and phone telehealth consults. There are also extra financial incentives for providing longer telehealth consultations (over 20 minutes) via video, rather than phone.
In this environment, I’d like to share five ways you can use tech-driven health services in your general practice to not only save time and money, but also enhance the experience for your patients.
1. Effectively manage those ‘quick phone call’ requests
I’m sure your receptionists are familiar with these patient requests:
- "Can you just pass on a message to Dr Cara for me?"
- "Can I have a quick word with Dr Cara?"
- "Can I speak to Dr Cara about my results?"
- "I urgently need a repeat prescription"
What many patients don’t realise when making these requests, is how tricky it is to squeeze these calls in between your booked consults.
This is where telehealth appointments are helpful. Create a clinic policy encouraging reception staff to tell patients that rather than pass on a message, they’ll book them in for a short video or phone consultation. They can reassure patients that their doctor will then have a chance to properly address their issue, as well as be able to bill for the time (at no cost to them, unless you bill privately).
- Educate staff about the simple requests appropriate for telehealth appointments and how to politely advise patients
- Make sure the patient verbally consents to the phone or video call
- Bulk bill via Medicare on completion (or request payment from the patient)
2. Use the benefits of video for mental health and chronic illness care plans
Mental health and chronic illness care plans require longer consultations. They involve a fair amount of ‘question and answer’ and box-ticking on your part. This is an ideal situation to use a longer video telehealth consult, especially as these patient cohorts are vulnerable and may be more reluctant to attend in person.
- Advise reception staff they should book a longer video appointment for these patients
- Make sure patients understand how to access their video appointment
- Get verbal consent before you begin the consultation
- Bulk bill or privately bill – the patient can call reception after the consult, or build the process into your online booking system (for example, Hotdoc can manage telehealth payments)
3. Create a virtual waiting area
To ease a transition to online consultations, virtually replicate your bricks-and-mortar waiting room using the free healthdirect Video Call service, run by the Australian Department of Health.
Patients can still follow the same steps of an in-person appointment, such as checking in, waiting in the virtual waiting room and having you join them. Admin staff can send patients notifications if you’re running late, or advise them where they are in the queue.
Another advantage is being able to dial in other people, such as a patient’s family member, an interpreter or allied care professionals.
- Assign someone to lead the introduction of the video system and online waiting area
- Ask staff to educate patients about the virtual online waiting area (where to find it and how to check-in)
- Be patient. There will likely be teething issues, but these will iron out with practise
4. Incorporate allied health staff and specialists for a smoother patient experience
Many GP clinics offer a range of holistic services such as dietitians, naturopaths and speech therapists. These healthcare professionals also use telehealth appointments for the same great reasons you do!
Consider inviting them to use the same platform as you. It will save your patients time and hassle. The bonus? It’s a fantastic point of difference for your clinic.
- Speak to your allied health colleagues about the benefits of using the same video platform
- Align your online booking processes to include them
- Set up payment systems to make it simple for patients to pay online
5. Tailored support for parents and children
A trip to the GP clinic with an unwell child is no fun. The tears, the clinging-to-the-car-seat tantrum, plus the travel time. Consulting with a trusted doctor from home is a much more appealing option.
By offering video appointments as a standard choice, your practice provides a welcomed service for stressed out parents and their children (who may make up a big portion of your patient caseload).
There are also some amazing technologies available for home use. An example is an inexpensive scope for children with frequent throat infections. While these devices require a little parent education, it’s a ‘value-add’ to your service.
- Make sure parents and children feel at ease, especially on their first ‘video visit’
- Explain you may look away from the camera to make notes
- Future-proof yourself by getting familiar with remote monitoring technology
Extra telehealth support
I hope you’ve found these five ways of using telehealth in your general practice helpful. Over the past 10 years, I’ve supported the set-up of 100s of telehealth services in Australia, so if you’d like some further assistance, please get in touch with me at Telehealth School and Consulting.
On the other hand, if you’re a general practitioner interested in learning more about telehealth career opportunities, please contact Melissa Welsh, Wavelength’s specialist recruiter for Telehealth and Divergent Careers.