How to Implement Telehealth to Create a Successful Virtual Care Clinic

In the early part of 2020, the leadership team at Alliance Physical Therapy Partners knew they wanted to incorporate telehealth across their partner clinics as a way to give their patients more flexibility and convenience. They anticipated the process would begin sometime in the summer. But then the unexpected happened: COVID-19 arrived, along with shelter-in-place orders and patients locked down at home.

After fast-tracking telehealth implementation in just four days, Alliance was able to build its Agile Virtual Care Clinic and has seen considerable success, including a 47 percent reduction in cost per episode of care, fewer visits, excellent patient satisfaction, and a high percentage of patients experiencing less pain and making functional improvements. (View the full customer story here.)

What this means for you: If an episode of care cost $1000, a 47 percent decrease would save you $470 per episode managed through a blended model. This would make a significant impact on any bundled payments, ACO agreements, or potential contracts with payers.

How did Alliance achieve these remarkable outcomes with their virtual care clinic? We spoke with three members of the Alliance team about the processes and strategies they’ve used so far. Based on what they shared, here are five recommendations for successfully implementing virtual care at your organization.

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Strategies for succeeding with virtual care

Identify your objectives
Determine how you’ll integrate telehealth across the continuum of care, your main objectives for doing so, and a process for measuring success.

“In the long term, we want to match the demands of the consumer and deliver care when and how they want it. That is our ultimate objective,” said Richard Leaver, CEO of Alliance.

In the short term, Alliance hoped that telehealth could result in the same or better quality of care, patient satisfaction, and clinical outcomes while also reducing costs. The organization took an evidence-based approach by measuring these benchmarks from the beginning.

Find a high-quality telehealth product
Find a telehealth product that is easy to integrate with existing technology, user-friendly for patients and providers, and that allows you to offer an excellent patient experience. Alliance uses Telehealth Virtual Visits, which integrates with MedBridge’s Digital Care Delivery Solution, allowing Alliance clinicians to deepen patient engagement and adherence by streaming exercises in real time during sessions.

Select your telehealth clinicians
Not everyone at your organization might be interested in telehealth or have the skillset necessary to be a successful virtual care practitioner. Identify the clinicians who have good technical aptitude and the ability to connect with patients via a screen. Then determine whether they should be dedicated to virtual care or also perform in-person sessions. Once you’ve chosen your virtual practitioners, help to equip them with the skills they need through high-quality training on telehealth best practices and providing an excellent patient experience.

Provide a great patient experience
In the clinic, practitioners build trust with patients through hands-on procedures that help patients feel better. But without the ability for physical touch during a telehealth session, clinicians must find other methods to build rapport and encourage a patient’s continued use of virtual care.

“I had to build trust remotely by being involved and attentive and conveying that over the camera. Patients want to feel attended to and cared for, and it’s possible to create that relationship in different ways. It’s just a different mindset,” says Dan Hirai, Physical Therapist at Alliance.

Use the medium to your advantage
Hirai recognizes that virtual care provides the unique opportunity to see patients in their homes and thereby work on in-home function in ways that wouldn’t be possible in person. “Don’t focus on what can’t be done, but focus on what you can do. If they say it hurts to sit down in their favorite chair or put dishes in the cabinet, I ask them to show me. Not everyone has a gym at home, so I say, ‘What do you have? What can we do with this?’ And in the last 10-15 minutes, I have everyone move—even just marching in place or side steps. Then they end the session feeling better,” he says.

To find out more about Alliance’s clinical adoption of telehealth, including additional experiences, lessons learned, and goals for the future, view the full presentation.