One of the most noticeable effects of the national lockdown on your activity has likely been the drastic decrease in physical bookings. To make sure that your clinic stays afloat during this troubling time, just about the only thing you can do is take your practice online. While there are certain services you simply can’t provide online, there’s plenty you can still do to keep patients engaged. This article examines what you need to consider and get right before you make the leap.
Update your Terms & Conditions and Insurance Policies
Providing your services digitally instead of physically comes with a few hoops for you to jump through first. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as flicking a switch and carrying on as usual. That said, once you know what you need to keep an eye on, you will, in fact, be able to continue as normal (or as normal as possible, anyway!)
First things first, you are going to have to make alterations to your existing terms and conditions to account for the fact that digital solutions and workarounds do not necessarily replace their physical equivalents in the eyes of the law or indeed those of your patients. You should make it crystal clear for anyone reading such documentation what to expect from your telemedicine offerings to ensure that expectations and obligations are met on all sides.
Unless you rely solely on self-paying patients, you’re also going to need to inform your insurance providers of your updated intentions regarding your practice. You will have to explain exactly how you will be rendering services digitally, whether it’s using video conferencing or good old-fashioned telephone consultations. Only then can your providers alter your policies to account for these changes properly.
One of the positive aspects of moving your work online is that the usual geographical limitations are, in theory, removed entirely. In practice, however, you had better make sure that you are permitted to provide your services to patients residing in places you might not have been linked to before. This is particularly the case with medical tourism, which could result in your consulting with patients who are on the other side of the globe and subject to a totally different healthcare system that may be unwilling or unable to collaborate with you. It’s your job to make the whole process as easy as possible for yourself and your patients.
Data Protection and Working Online
While all good clinics have set out how they deal with patients’ data, especially personally identifiable information (PII), in the physical realm, doing so from an online perspective is a whole other kettle of fish. Let’s look at some of the most commonly employed strategies to ensure compliance with GDPR.
To keep your patients’ data safe, you should:
- Use GDPR compliant practice management software such as Medesk
- Never leave your laptop or other work devices unattended or without password protection
- Create a privacy notice to inform your patients how their data will be stored and why
- Ensure that patients consent to the storage and processing of their data insofar as it relates to their medical care
- Explore and comply with the official guidelines for online work released by your speciality’s regulatory body if they exist
Sharing Information Safely
While some information can be distributed using normal email, it’s often required that you take extra care to ensure data is shared more securely. While automated appointment confirmations and reminders can usually be sent out without too much fuss, it’s a totally different story with sensitive clinical information that could be matched to an individual. Make sure you take the proper precautions.
To share information securely outside of your practice management software, you should:
- Use encrypted email services so only intended recipients can open messages
- Add passwords to your documents before storing or sending them
- Never send passwords in plain text through normal email providers
- Be careful what you share verbally with patients if they are not in a confidential area
The Art of Online Consultations
Using video conferencing or phone consultations in your practice is only going to be effective if you prepare properly as described above. But once you’ve got all the legal and security-related hurdles out of the way, it’s time to think about how you’re actually going to provide your new digital services. If you’re choosing whether to go with video conferencing or telephone consultation, consider what you are comfortable with and what your patients would prefer. Choose the most appropriate form of telemedicine by looking at:
- What do you actually prefer to use as a service provider
- What software can you and your patients use most comfortably
- How IT-proficient your average patient is
- Whether your patients physical and psychological situation allows for telemedicine to be effective
- The availability of a good internet connection on both sides
- Whether you can expect a sufficient degree of privacy
It’s clear that prior preparation is what underlies the best possible performance and it’s no different in telemedicine. Once you have considered the legal, data security and practical aspects of running a digital practice, you are well on your way to being able to engage with patients and keep your business afloat in this difficult time.
We’ll conclude our quick-start guide to taking your private practice digital with the second half, which looks in more detail at how to provide telemedicine services.
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