Virtual Care: Preparing your staff and notifying your patients

Contributors include OntarioMD Practice Advisor Tania Hunt with recommendations from OntarioMD Physician Peer Leaders from our Virtual Care Webinar Series

With the onset of the COVID-19 , clinicians have quickly adapted to physical distancing with their patients and using virtual care to avoid unnecessary trips to the office. You may decide to make this change in how you practice medicine an ongoing option for your patients beyond the current global pandemic.  The change to a practice that offers virtual care options can be done easily and efficiently by selecting a virtual care platform that’s right for you and your patients. There are many virtual care tools on the market and the choices may seem overwhelming. OntarioMD has facilitated your review of virtual care tools available to Ontario clinicians by bringing them all together in one convenient spot, OntarioMD.News. This site contains lists virtual care tools for video visits, direct-to-patient interactions, virtual clinics, EMR-integrated tools, and more. The tools have been curated, but not endorsed by OntarioMD. Please contact the vendors directly for product-specific questions.

You may wish to delegate the task of finding a virtual care platform to one of your staff who will also be using the tools and you can also ask your family and friends for recommendations. Involving staff is an opportunity to keep them feeling needed and invested in any new tools for your practice. A critical success factor for virtual care is being able to network with colleagues on similar platforms for support and advice so you may wish  to select tools that colleagues in your social network, study groups, etc., are using.

The transition to offering virtual options might be challenging for some staff. You can leverage Zoom or similar platforms to train staff on the benefits of the virtual tools. You may also want to consider an Interactive Voice Response (IVR)system to route phone calls for staff working from home.

Before you adopt a virtual care tool, a good idea is to keep your schedule flexible when you start using it and until you and your staff get used to the tool. This will help to ease stress, give you and your staff space and plenty of time to learn from using virtual care tools. You can see what works well and how your patients like the tool.

One of the most frequent requests from patients is for online appointment booking. Online booking is a great way to introduce your practice and your patients to virtual care tools. Check out the options for an online booking platform. Online appointment booking will cut down on phone calls asking for appointments. This frees up your staff to do other things. You should allow for some same day appointments, and leave only options video or phone options for the patient to choose from. Work with a nurse or your admin to triage who you need to see vs. who you can treat over the phone or eVisit.

So you’ve prepared yourself and your staff to use virtual care tools. Now it’s time to notify your patients that your practice has gone mostly virtual. Your staff can implement the IVR and voicemail system so patients are informed that your clinic has gone virtual when they call. If your staff are booking appointments over the phone, ensure they ask the patient what virtual platform they would like to use (phone or video). If they are booking an appointment from your website, change your website to only show the video visit or phone visit options. Let patients decide which technology they are most comfortable with. Once an appointment is booked, have staff confirm the patient phone number and email so you have the most up-to-date information. It’s also a good idea at this point to obtain the patient’s consent in advance of the virtual encounter. This can be done by admin staff.

A consent statement that your admin can read to patients over the phone was prepared by OMA and OntarioMD Legal teams and vetted by the CMPA.  It should be posted on your website and in your office for your patients to read. You can also obtain consent by email. In both cases, record consent for each patient in your EMR. Instructions for how to obtain consent to initiate a virtual care encounter and the consent statement are available on OntarioMD.News.

If you use Facebook, a newsletter or another method to communicate with your patients, try and get the word out on how patients can reach you and provide links to resources if they have traveled outside of Canada or think they may have developed COVID-19 symptoms.

Search your EMR for patient email addresses and send a mass communication to notify patients of clinic updates, COVID-19 updates and that they can email you. This “keeping the door open” approach has proven to be popular with patients.

All the best as you move forward with your virtual practice.

This is part one of a two-part blog. Part two will focus on virtual care tips and tricks.