Choosing a telehealth platform requires careful consideration. The best platform for your clinic depends on many factors, like your clinic size, patient population, disciplines, specialties, etc.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many clinics to seek out telehealth platforms for the first time. Since the benefits of telehealth have post-pandemic applications, it’s important to find the right platform for your clinic. The best platform for your clinic depends on many factors, like your clinic size, patient population, disciplines, specialties, etc.
Choosing a telehealth platform requires careful consideration. With all the options available, you may be unsure about how to choose a platform that aligns with your needs. Here are some points to help you find the right telehealth platform for your clinic.
As with any purchase, you’ll need to determine what features are mandatory. In the case of telehealth platforms, the main driver of mandatory features is HIPAA compliance. HIPAA requires specific protections of personal health information (PHI) and a Business Associate Agreement (BAA). The BAA is an agreement between your organization and the vendor that deals with your client’s PHI. HIPAA requires a signed BAA before sharing any PHI with the platform vendor.
These measures protect clients’ privacy during therapy sessions and when storing their information. A platform can have multiple versions with only one adhering to HIPAA standards, so you’ll need to ensure that you are choosing the right version.
Other sources of telehealth requirements are payment entities. For example, many health insurance companies and state policies mandate the use of live video and audio. These requirements must be fulfilled to receive payment / reimbursement. For more information on these requirements, see the Center for Connected Health Policy’s page on Medicare and Medicaid requirements.
In addition to live sessions, telehealth platforms can also facilitate asynchronous services. This means that the provider and the client aren’t interacting in realtime. Instead, they’re interacting via email, video message, or even text. The Department of Health and Human Services provides a useful resource on Medicare / Medicaid reimbursement for asynchronous telehealth here. They also provide guidelines on the use of audio-only telehealth services here.
Frequency of Use
Since platforms can vary in price point, you’ll want to consider how many healthcare providers will be using it and how often. A free trial use can be a cost-effective way to try out the features on a platform. However, if the free trial is limited to 30 days, variables such as the time of year can skew the accuracy of how much your clinic may actually utilize the system.
Determine Clinical Users
When choosing a telehealth platform, you’ll want to consider which of your clinical staff will be using it. Only one discipline, or multiple? A platform that caters to multiple disciplines will allow for broader service administration. However, you’ll still want to consider the unique needs of each discipline as well as the unique needs of their clients. A platform that allows for individualization of services based on discipline will support evidence-based practice techniques.
The overall user experience of a telehealth platform can affect provider productivity, cognitive load, and frequency of use. Whether someone is new to telehealth or very experienced, the usability of the platform makes a difference.
Of course, it’s not just the providers’ experience that matters. The telehealth platform should be easy to use for patients as well, and not be an obstacle to a productive session. The platform’s features of lack thereof can affect client outcomes, session attendance and overall retention and engagement. There are several features that create a positive user experience, which we’ll cover now.
Some telehealth platforms include built-in assessments, exercise programs, and / or treatment activities tailored for telehealth sessions. These can reduce session planning time for your staff and give them a jump start if they’re new to telehealth. When all providers have access to the same materials, it increases the equity of resource access as well.
Using resources that are created for digital distribution and consumption can also elevate the quality of those resources. However, when utilizing a platform’s library of assessments, you’ll still need to reference best practice guidelines for telehealth administration to maintain the validity of the assessment.
The ability to reference and complete documentation can be helpful, especially when providing consecutive treatments. Access to point of service documentation can increase the accuracy and timeliness of documentation completion.
Integration with Other Digital Systems
Using a platform that can integrate with other electronic systems may enable you to streamline your operations. You may have other electronic systems such as appointment reminders or a billing system that would benefit from a two-way communication with the therapy platform. Integration with these systems can reduce revenue loss from last-minute client cancellations and can increase the timeliness of billing.
Technical support can help you troubleshoot any issues and provides peace of mind when introducing new technology. Some platforms may even offer live support to solve issues immediately as they occur. This can increase session quality and decrease cancellations due to technical difficulty.
Other support-related features to look for are video tutorials and /or articles about the platform. Some telehealth platforms embed support content into the product, while others may host it on a separate website. These resources can help your staff answer their own questions, troubleshoot independently, and learn all the functions of the platform.
As the demand for telehealth platforms grows, so will the options. Therefore, it may be necessary to periodically reassess your clinic’s needs and compare that with the new technology available.
Tasha Perkins Holmes, MOT, OTR/L, BCP
Tasha Perkins Holmes, MOT, OTR/L, BCP is an Occupational Therapist, telehealth expert and freelance healthcare writer. She has created continuing education courses for allied health professionals as well as instructed future healthcare professionals. Writing is a means for her to share her knowledge about healthcare topics that are important to healthcare providers and consumers. Writing also provides a way for her to advocate for equitable access to healthcare and to increase the healthcare literacy of the public. Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn or Upwork.
- States that reimburse for telehealth store-and-forward. CCHP. (n.d.). Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.cchpca.org/topic/store-and-forward)
- Medicaid and Medicare Billing for Asynchronous Telehealth. Telehealth.HHS.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://telehealth.hhs.gov/providers/billing-and-reimbursement/medicaid-and-medicare-billing-for-asynchronous-telehealth/
- (OCR), O. for C. R. (2022, June 10). Guidance: How the HIPAA rules permit covered health care providers and health plans to use remote communication technologies for audio-only telehealth. HHS.gov. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/hipaa-audio-telehealth/index.html