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September 25, 2019

Interoperability is the key to virtual care success

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Many healthcare systems have gotten the memo: to stay competitive in today’s consumer-centric landscape by retaining and attracting patients, they must offer a convenient virtual care option to patients. In the rush to find a vendor and get started, however, it’s easy to overlook one crucial piece of the puzzle: interoperability.

Interoperability isn’t just a buzzword. Without it, your virtual care solution is only solving for geography, not for the administrative burden that leads to provider capacity shortages, physician burnout, and patient dissatisfaction. After all, how can you keep the patients you have and add new ones to your system if your telehealth offering only adds to clinicians’ already taxing workloads?

Interoperability is the key to ensuring your direct-to-consumer virtual care offering provides both convenient care for your patients and an efficient way to deliver that care for your clinicians.

Improve Clinician Workflows

Arguably, the most important piece of interoperability your virtual care vendor should offer is seamless, bi-directional integration with your existing EHR system. Clinicians should have access to the patient’s medical history without having to access the EHR. Likewise, when the visit is over, chart notes, interview transcripts, images, the after-visit summary (AVS), and coding information should be automatically updated within the EHR as a separate encounter. If the clinician spends any time updating the EHR, your telehealth solution is not interoperable and isn’t doing anything to improve clinical workflows.

Unless you’ve developed an EHR system that can read PDFs and update itself (and if you have, we’d love to hear about it!), a telehealth vendor that sends an AVS as a PDF isn’t offering full interoperability. Neither is a vendor that stores the information gathered during the visit in an EHR system outside your own—it’s difficult to maintain a continuum of care when a patient’s medical records live in several different places.

No episode of care is over until someone gets paid. Ok, not really, but someone does need to get the right codes and data over to finance so the adjudication process can begin. Ideally, your virtual care platform is plugged into the billing workflows you’ve set up within your practice-management system, so it automatically queues billing codes according to the diagnosis and treatment chosen by the clinician.

Improve patient workflows

We’ve all been there: A patient calls to make an appointment with their doctor because they feel sick. The scheduler asks them to describe their symptoms. When they get to their appointment, the nurse or MA asks them to describe their symptoms. Then the doctor comes into the exam room and asks them to, that’s right, describe their symptoms. Frustrating, right? “Don’t these people talk to each other?” the patient wonders.

Now imagine they started with virtual care and answered those questions, but the platform couldn’t treat their illness. Now they get to start that process all over again, essentially answering the same set of questions four times. This is not an efficient care pathway.

A fully interoperable virtual care partner allows the patient answer those questions once, gathers their medical history, and delivers all of that information to the clinician at every step of their care pathway—whether the patient is treated virtually or needs to be escalated to a higher modality of care. Even better is a platform that can escalate the patient, either putting them in touch with the resources they need to be seen in person or automatically scheduling them with a provider who can see them when it’s most appropriate.

A Deloitte study found that while patients are open to alternate care-delivery options, they still trust hospitals and their own physicians more than other healthcare outlets. This means patients are more likely to use your virtual offerings if they feel like they are getting care from you. A telehealth partner offering complete interoperability should plug right into your website or portal, allowing patients to get care without going to what feels like a separate website or login page.

Virtual care is an ideal way to provide a convenient care option for your patients, but if it isn’t saving clinicians’ time, streamlining workflows (for both clinicians and patients), and ensuring patients’ continuum of care is consistent, it’s only adding to the administrative burden clinicians deal with after each visit. Interoperability is crucial, and you’ll struggle to compete without it.

Author:

Julia Millard

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