Many people in the human services world continue to struggle to determine best practices for providing telehealth services. Despite this, the need for telehealth is constantly growing. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, less than 1% of all healthcare was conducted via telehealth. Following the pandemic, over 70% of clinicians want to increase their use of telehealth.
While increasingly popular, telehealth is still uncharted territory for many in human services, including doctors, clinics, hospitals, behavioral health counselors, and intellectual and developmental disabilities providers. Barriers to telehealth have included restrictions on coverage provided by Medicare or other payers, licensure and regulations, inadequate broadband service, lack of leadership in the development of telehealth services, decentralized departments, high cost of technologies, inadequate considerations of user experience and clinician workflows, and evolving measures of success and key performance indicators.
Best practices for integrating telehealth into your human services work
1. Assess your current systems
In many respects, psychiatrists, nurses, physicians, counselors, social workers, and other healthcare practitioners already engage in telehealth with patients through emails, phone calls, online lab results, and more. Assess your clinic’s electronic health record (EHR) system to determine its ease of use in a telehealth system. Find out if your existing system allows staff providing services to access EHR information remotely. Using technology that is already in place can save money and prevent service providers, clients, and others from having to learn completely new systems.
2. Launch a pilot program
If time allows, pilot programs can help you evaluate the effectiveness of telehealth and test how well patients and providers like it before investing time and money into a system.
For best results, teach your staff how to work the system prior to starting the pilot. Track and document the positive and negative feedback from those enrolled. Gather information, such as peak usage times, service delivery issues, and other challenges.
To ensure a smooth deployment of the new telehealth system, expand the pilot to include other departments, using the same protocols established during the trial.
In the midst of a crisis situation like COVID-19, however, you may not be able to pilot your system and obtain feedback from early adopters before deploying it.
3. Prioritize use cases
Prioritizing use cases helps patients reach the right departments to address their needs. Telehealth systems can use tools, such as drop-down menus in user portals, to ensure proper routing. Vendors can provide software solutions for prioritizing use cases.
Targeted routing helps patients feel comfortable sharing information on the telehealth portal. This is particularly important in telepsychiatry, given the sensitive nature of mental health care.
4. Create routine workflows
Prioritization requires the creation of routine workflows and predetermined responses. Flow charts, graphs, and other visual aids can help direct conversations and consultations and improve the experience for patients using the system.
5. Provide training
At the start, train employees to use the new telehealth and telepsychiatry system. You will also need accessible and easily mastered training for patients, with knowledgeable staff ready to assist. Setting up proper training and support documents, such as frequently asked questions, will improve the user experience for staff and patients. Well-trained users also improve the system’s cost-effectiveness.
While you may ultimately end up with a focused telehealth or telepsychiatry team, cross-training creates an opportunity for other employees to take on telehealth duties during peak demand in situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moving forward, telehealth can help patients and caregivers stay connected. Implementing telehealth for behavioral health services can help your practice meet immediate and future needs for remote engagement.
Everything You Need to Know About Telehealth
During times of crisis, the need for mental health and substance use services doesn’t stop. In fact, the demand for these services increases as people begin to experience anxiety, depression, substance use, and other mental health issues. Check out our resources page to find out more about how telehealth services can help you meet the demand now and beyond.Visit our telehealth web page →