By Amanda Barker-Assell, OD
April 15, 2020
For many optometrists, our local laws or corporate leases are requiring that our practices only stay open for emergency or special cases while the nation is in a declared state of emergency.
Although our ODs and staff are required to stay home when they can, we have successfully implemented a few ways to provide patient care remotely through telehealth. Telehealth services encompass responding to a patient’s queries and delivering diagnoses through recorded videos, photos, phone calls and two-way video calls.
Traditionally, telehealth or telemedicine was feared as an ineffective alternative to an in-practice exam. However, the current climate calls for me to adapt and nurture agility within my team. ODs that don’t attempt to offer alternative care might be overlooking the long-term opportunities that telehealth makes room for, especially during future exceptional situations like the one we are currently facing.
Set Up a Remote Care Schedule
As an early adopter of telehealth, I’m already seeing the benefits of incorporating remote care into our workflow. Remote patient care has been interesting and has pushed us to be creative and quick on our feet. We are open for urgent and emergency care in-person as well as available remotely. We have reduced our hours in office with a limited team onsite from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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Additionally, we have been able to set up 10 team members at home to limit the number of people physically in our office at one time. We meet our patients’ demand with an emergency on-call line available 24/7 along with telemedicine visits offered daily. It is important that we continue to be available in some way to our patients and to reassure them that we are here and ready to help.
Leverage Online Tools & Software
Our practice was able to transition into remote care more easily using the patient portal in Uprise, our cloud-based EHR and practice management software, to determine the needs of the patient without putting my staff at risk. For example, red eyes, allergies, swollen lids or injuries can start as an e-visit. If it is something that we can manage through a synchronous visit that is great, but if a face-to-face visit is necessary then we schedule with the onsite doctor.
Tools that we can use completely remotely allow my staff to set up telemedicine or in-office appointments, order contact lenses, send patient education and collect payment from our homes. I have been very thankful for Uprise EHR over the past few weeks. Scheduling patients, accessing data and telemedicine has been easy to adjust to and overall seamless during this time.
Virtual credit card machines have made collecting payments very simple. We use several different apps that allow us to communicate offsite with team members in the office all day long. I have been amazed to see how much we have learned to use our different products so easily from remote sites.
Patient Awareness & Marketing
Most optometrists are reasonably worried about not seeing enough patients to keep their practice financially stable. To keep a busy schedule, we began our telehealth launch with promoting awareness through patient communication tools available in our practice management system.
We sent telehealth e-mail blasts to our established patients and used all our social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to educate and inform our patients to make sure that patients know all their options. When patients call our office, [telehealth] is offered as an alternative to help with social distancing. Due to our diligence, we’re not experiencing a complete halt to patient flow. We have telehealth visits every day. In general, patients have been receptive and enjoyed interacting with the doctors through telemedicine.
Some practices might be unsure whether telehealth could be a viable option for them due to limited software or staff. I believe there is a place for telemedicine in all practices. It is a great option for certain medical visits like red eyes, allergies, lid concerns and more. The fact is that you can only do some much through telemedicine, so it is an adjunct to our everyday practice. It is not a standalone solution.
With the assistance of an agile team and cloud-based technology, telehealth can be a strong addition to practices even after shelter-in-place mandates are lifted. Offering telehealth could also create opportunities to serve patients who are unable to leave their homes and those who live in expansive rural communities, and employ optometrists that are home-bound or traveling.
Although the current circumstances are not ideal, I think the adversity pushed us to broaden our patient care methods. This pandemic has forced us to learn how to incorporate telehealth from scheduling, creating encounters, billing and connecting with patients. We will gladly continue to offer telehealth moving forward to serve certain patient needs.