For medical clinics considering offering virtual appointments to their patients, there are just a few practical hurdles to jump. In this 4-minute video, we’ll walk you through the 3 steps every clinic should take to not only prepare but ensure patients are protected.
Hi there. It’s Ryan Miller with Etna Interactive, and we’ve been getting a ton of questions about virtual appointments. A couple bits of good news here. It’s fairly straightforward to get yourself ready to accept virtual appointments. We’ve been helping our clients with it for over 20 years. It’s really quite an easy thing to do; in fact there’re just three steps.
The first thing you need to do is identify what you need to collect securely in an encrypted fashion for patients before your appointments. Make sure that you’ve selected, and you’re comfortable with, your video conferencing tools. And then, finally, let patients know.
Let’s talk about each one of those three steps because there are a few nuances to items that are worth understanding. Obviously, you’re gonna require at least registration or a bit of health history before you conduct a virtual appointment. But for many clinics, they choose to offer virtual assessments that require photography to assess the patient and their underlying expectations before deciding that a virtual appointment may be appropriate.
So, if that’s you, there’s something important you need to understand. Email is inherently insecure and that once a patient attaches, whether it be a file or an image, that could be intercepted and create a risk under HIPAA for both the patient and for the practice. So what do you do?
Well, first thing you need to decide is which files exactly do you want to request as a part of your overall process. Is it just a new patient form, or will you also request photos? Now, once you understand what you want in your process, reach out to your practice management software vendor. Now, many of their platforms will offer an option for patient portals where patients can securely transmit to you their health history, their registration data so that we’re not passing around things like social security numbers on the open web.
Now, unfortunately, many of those platforms do not support secure file transfer like images. And so you’ll need to have a conversation with your digital agency about how to integrate that into your site. We’ve got a fantastic solution that will not only encrypt those files while they’re on the server but will actually encrypt those files in transit, and it just adds one quick little step. Your team is going to need to double-click on that content as soon as it arrives, and you’re off to decrypt those assets so that they can be used, whether it’s in your office or now, I guess, your home office.
Second step is video conferencing. You need to make sure that you make the right choice in your tool. A little bit of warning here as well. Unfortunately, some of the commercially available tools for video conferencing are not, for those of us in the United States, HIPAA compliant. Fortunately, Skype, Zoom, and GoToMeeting do all offer HIPAA-compliant options. Some of them are a little bit convoluted to get into and can be expensive, but they are all willing to sign BAAs or business associate agreements.
Now, we’ve done a bunch of research, and we found a free tool that we really like that we think you might want to check out. It’s called Doxy.me. It’s designed specifically for telemedicine and has some features that I think may be better than those commercial video conferencing tools. And for some very small fees, they offer some interesting upgrade features. So definitely worth consideration.
Now, once you’ve selected your video conferencing platform and practiced a little bit, it’s time to let patients know. We need to modify those patient intake forms, rather those patient appointment request forms, giving them the choice to signal you that they’re interested in a virtual consult as opposed to a live one. Once that’s in place, it’s worthwhile to publish a page describing your overall virtual appointment process, just to manage expectations properly with patients, and then we’ll be free to publish far and wide, letting the world know that that’s an option all over your site. And, of course, we have other channels available to us, everything from your on-hold messaging to your email signature files to email marketing and social media.
Let’s use all those channels to let patients know how they can connect with you in the time of COVID. So, three simple steps; of course, our team here is ready and able to support you in all of them. So, if you have a question, reach out to your account executive here at Etna Interactive, and we’re happy to help you.
If I do not have an EMR ( ie still paper charts) what do I look for for if I require a secure and encrypted document management system for transferring secure forms and photos (receiving and sending). I will be using Zoom for virtual visits?
Great question, Andrea. In addition to EHR, some telemedicine platforms, and digital consultation aids (such as TouchMD) can support secure and encrypted file transfer. But if none of those are at your disposal, talk with your digital agency about implementing a form on your site that will encrypt in transit the email message and attached file contents. When implemented a key will be installed in your mail program to decrypt the message after it arrives.