Telehealth is the provision of healthcare or health-related services via electronic communication methods, such as the telephone, two-way messaging, email, asynchronous video, or video conferencing. According to this definition, any time you answer questions about a pet’s condition over the phone or via chat, you are providing telehealth services. So, whether you have an official telehealth program in your practice—complete with team training and SOPs—or you are reluctant to jump on the bandwagon, you likely already provide some degree of telehealth services to your clients.
Starting a telehealth program may sound intimidating, but adding these services—many of which you already provide—can boost your practice’s efficiency, improve team morale, and increase client satisfaction. In honor of Telehealth Awareness Week, which is September 17–23 this year, the Rumpus team is sharing five tips to get you started and ensure the transition is as smooth as possible for your team and clients.
#1: Start with what you already know
If the idea of telemedicine is intimidating, start small by expanding on the services you already provide. For example, when Fluffy’s owner calls with a list of questions, have your CSR suggest she schedule a telehealth chat with the veterinarian instead of them serving as a middleman or taking a message for the vet to call her back. This way, the client receives the veterinarian’s undivided attention for an allocated amount of time, and the veterinarian can end the call when the allotted time is up. And, your practice can charge for the time, which is a precious commodity these days.
#2: Expand your offerings
Once your team gains comfort with the idea of telemedicine, decide what other services you will offer. Some ideas may include:
- Two-way messaging
- Virtual appointments
Although you already triage patients over the phone, consider expanding your services by offering two-way chat or asynchronous video assessment. For example, if a client is concerned their pet is not recovering appropriately from surgery, they can send you a picture or video of the incision. Many client communication platforms offer two-way messaging, or you can invest in a practice cell phone to receive and send messages.
When teletriaging patients, your team can determine whether an appointment is necessary, and then direct the client to make an in-person or virtual appointment. Virtual appointments can be scheduled between regular, in-person appointments, allowing your veterinarians to see more clients. Clients will appreciate the convenience of accessing veterinary care from the comfort of home, without the stress of transporting their pet.
You will also need to decide which services you will charge for. You obviously won’t charge for every phone call and chat message you receive, but dedicated time with a veterinary professional, whether on the phone or via video conference, should incur a fee.
#3: Establish workflows
You will want to establish protocols and workflows for any new services you offer so your team knows how to handle different situations that may arise. Your teletriage team should have clear guidelines to help them decide which clients should be seen in-person and which can schedule virtual appointments. You will need to decide how much time to allocate for virtual appointments, how to notate them on the schedule, and how you will alert your veterinarians to the mix of daily appointments. Once your clients know that you offer this service, messages will come through on a frequent basis, so you should designate a specific team member to cover teletriage each day instead of expecting whoever is available to handle this task.
#4: Provide team training
Don’t expect your team to instinctively jump in and know how to handle chat messages or schedule virtual appointments—once you have specific protocols in place, team training is essential. Team members responding to chat messages should receive training on what language to use in specific situations. Drafting templated responses for common situations can help improve your team’s confidence and efficiency. Virtual appointments will follow a different flow than in-person appointments, and associate veterinarians should also receive training so that everyone is on the same page and appointments are conducted similarly.
#5: Consider offering hybrid work options
Tasks like teletriage, two-way chatting, and sending digital reminders can be accomplished remotely, and most veterinary professionals will welcome the opportunity to work from home. Decide whether you will appoint one person as a digital communications specialist, or if you will allow multiple team members to work from home one day per week.
Telehealth Awareness Week is a great time to consider whether your practice should add telehealth to your services list. Your clients will thank you and—instituted correctly—your team will enjoy the new venture.
If you need help writing telehealth scripts or templates, Rumpus Writing and Editing can help. Reach out to find out how we can help with all your digital and print writing needs.