You may have heard the latest news coming out of Texas – A major piece of telemedicine legislation has just been signed into law that will change the game for health systems looking to deploy virtual care. This bill abolishes the requirement that patient-physician relationships be established with an in-person visit before telemedicine or virtual care can be used. For health systems, that means they can now offer virtual care to the broader marketplace, rather than just to current patients. With virtual care proven to add patients to health systems, this presents an opportunity to employ virtual care as part of a patient acquisition strategy. Game-changing.
In Texas (and elsewhere), health systems new to telemedicine and virtual care are now looking at launching their own services to support patient acquisition. But without a foundation in virtual care, health systems moving quickly to take advantage of the new environment may be making decisions that have potential long-term implications for their organizations and patients. More good news for Texas health systems: By avoiding these 5 common virtual care mistakes, success is within reach.
1. Lack of organizational support
Often, health systems will decide there’s a need for virtual care, and begin with the best of intentions, delegating a department or individual to work on finding and implementing a solution. But without a clear plan, regular communication, and stakeholder engagement, the virtual care project does not get the proper attention and true buy-in needed to create a successful, long-standing virtual care offering.
Think of virtual care as a large, strategic technology investment – something that can support organization-wide objectives and strategies while adding value to your patients’ experience and your providers’ work. Make sure you have a clear plan around launching, and assemble a steering committee of leaders throughout the organization to guide the implementation and growth of your virtual care service.
After launch, maintain a communication plan to help keep virtual care front-of-mind throughout the organization. From clinical operations through marketing, your team should understand why virtual care is an important part of your strategy and how they can help make it a success.
2. Unclear reporting structure
Traditionally, telemedicine and virtual care service lines have been subject to a surprising lack of oversight. Health systems that don’t set up a clear reporting structure or determine which metrics to track will never be sure whether their virtual care service is meeting its objectives, and won’t have the insight needed to improve or grow the service.
This is an easy mistake to avoid – just make developing a cadence of accountability part of the implementation process. Understand what data your partner can capture and report on and what data you have access to. Decide on a reporting schedule—and identify who will be responsible for assembling and who will be responsible for reviewing reports.
If you need help identifying metrics or developing a reporting structure, our eBook, Measuring Success in Virtual Care, has the information you need to get off on the right foot.
3. Lack of marketing support
“If you build it, they will come” only works in baseball fantasy movies. But some health systems think that just having the service is enough. The truth is that patients won’t use your virtual care service if they don’t know it exists. And, in the digital age, marketing techniques need to be updated to match your audience.
It’s not enough to buy billboard space. When launching a virtual care service, you need a multi-channel, long-term marketing plan to drive virtual care adoption. This may include elements like a press release and local media strategy, prominent website placement, social media strategy, direct mail, email marketing, and in-clinic marketing. Likewise, an initial introductory push will only do so much for the service. If you want to see long-term success with virtual care, create a continuous cadence of communication, including seasonal marketing pushes around things like cold and flu or seasonal allergies.
Internal communications are also key. Providing training and information to nurse line and front desk staff to help them direct patients to the virtual care service can do a great deal toward driving adoption. Additionally, getting physicians, physician assistants, and nursing staff on board with talking about and recommending virtual care can make a tremendous difference in virtual care adoption.
4. Not understanding big-picture value
People are people, and people get locked into old ways of thinking. This is particularly true when looking at payment and revenue. Health system finance departments sometimes view the return on a virtual care investment by subtracting revenue from cost – but that’s not how virtual care adds value. The true value of virtual care lies in downstream revenues and cost savings as evident in a recent study.
Virtual care’s organizational impact can appear in any combination of the following:
- Increased patient acquisition
- Reduced patient leakage
- Lower cost of delivering care – or cost shift
If you want more information about the potential revenue impacts of virtual care on your health system, our revenue calculators can give you a starting point:
5. Choosing the wrong partner
Not all telemedicine and virtual care companies are created equal – the technologies, business models, support, and product roadmaps can vary widely. For example, many telemedicine companies have a direct-to-consumer model, meaning that they have the potential to create a relationship with your patients that could lead to those patients circumventing your system altogether in the future.
Many health systems rush their decision due to pressure from increasing competition or fail to perform their due diligence in the belief that telemedicine and virtual care companies are all the same. Often, healthcare organizations will find that their partner isn’t providing what they need six months to a year into a multi-year contract. Concerns can be as simple as workflow alerts, to low utilization, to lack of flexibility and scalability in the technology. And then they’re stuck. Fortunately, with planning and care, it’s possible to select the partner best suited to your health system’s needs.
First, talk to your stakeholders – understand patient and provider needs so you can choose the partner that is best suited to meet those needs. Don’t assume. Next, take a look at your organizational strategy and understand how virtual care fits into your overarching goals. Finally, develop your criteria for selecting a virtual care partner, including technology, support, staffing, and integration, to name a few.
The partner you choose should offer technologies that meet your patients’ needs, while fitting seamlessly into their lives. They should also offer solutions that fit into provider workflows to maximize clinical efficiency and support a positive provider experience. Your virtual care partner should also be able to demonstrate support for providing the highest levels of care quality that your patients expect from your health system. Finally, find a partner that will be just that – a partner. Find a company that will work alongside you to help create a successful virtual care service line – from launch through growth, scaling, and innovating.
Get Set for Virtual Care Success
Virtual care holds the potential to bring health systems a lot of value. Keep your eyes peeled, put in some effort in planning on the front end, and avoid these five virtual care mistakes, and you’ll be in a great position to win – whether you’re a Texas health system taking advantage of the new regulatory environment or just ready to take the next step in launching an online care delivery service.