Innovation in healthcare technology, from EHR software to videoconferencing software to patient monitoring devices, has contributed to significant growth in telehealth. More recently, both physical and behavioral health providers have offered telehealth to their clients to reduce in-person and prevent viral spread during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Because of this, the U.S. federal government has encouraged more providers to adopt and use telehealth appropriately.
However, many behavioral health providers had not yet implemented a telehealth program when the COVID-19 emergency began. Behavioral health organizations may be concerned about the financial or time costs of adding telehealth solutions and training staff. Providers may be concerned about whether telehealth solutions can adequately protect client privacy and data. Fortunately, there are many methods and resources for addressing these concerns.
Telehealth carries many broad benefits for healthcare, but you should also determine what value it holds for your specific agency and clients. Rather than implementing telehealth “just because,” you should first identify exactly what you want your telehealth program to accomplish. This will help you better plan and direct your organization’s implementation.
You may want to launch telehealth for a variety of possible reasons, including:
Behavioral health providers may think they need a lot of complicated equipment and software to offer telehealth. In fact, you may be surprised to learn how little equipment is required to begin.
Essentially, behavioral telehealth only requires a telephone or a device (computer, tablet, or smartphone) with an Internet connection. Under new rules implemented for the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, providers are permitted to use any non-public facing application in their patient’s communications without federal penalty, even if the application does not technically comply with HIPAA.
However, providers are still expected to conduct their telehealth visits in private settings, such as a clinic or office. If a private setting cannot be secured, then providers should use reasonable, HIPAA-friendly safeguards that can reduce the risk of incidental use or disclosure of a client’s protected health information (PHI). This includes moving away from others and not using the speakerphone feature.
Make sure your informed consent policy also covers your telehealth program. Your clients should be made aware of any confidentiality and privacy issues that may come up, especially if the application you use is not technically HIPAA-compliant.
Licensing is another telehealth concern that has been relaxed in response to COVID-19. Generally, clinicians must be licensed to provide behavioral health services in the client’s state. Some states, however, have eased these rules for the current public health emergency. Providers should remain vigilant regarding their states’ ongoing requirements.
While it’s true that your behavioral telehealth services don’t need a lot of equipment or health IT solutions, working with a vendor can give you access to additional services. This is a good option for organizations that want to optimize telehealth for both clinicians and clients.
First, consider what telehealth solutions you may already have on hand. Your EHR software or patient portal, for example, may already include some telehealth capabilities.
Once you know what solutions you may (or may not) have already, it is time to decide what else you would like your telehealth solution to offer. This will help you identify the vendors that best meet your needs. Some of the features you may want your telehealth platform to offer may include:
Once you know what you want in a telehealth platform, you are better prepared to select a vendor. When researching potential vendors, consider the following:
Several government health agencies, medical associations, and other groups have shared online resources to help answer questions about delivering services through telehealth, especially during the COVID-19 emergency.
Even though some states relax their COVID-19 restrictions and more clients return to in-person visits, use of telehealth is expected to continue its growth worldwide. By working with a trusted EHR that integrates with your telehealth services, you can ensure the best experience and outcome for you and your clients.
Streamline Healthcare Solutions is prepared to work with your behavioral health practice so you can achieve your telehealth goals. Contact the expert team at Streamline today and ask us how we can help.