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Telehealth is Here to Stay

By Mary Anne C. Murphy, OD June 24, 2020

Many eye care providers hadn’t considered telehealth prior to the pandemic, believing they needed a hands-on exam to adequately treat patients. With COVID-19 reducing that type of care to only essential services, and with a patient population that needed access to doctors outside of the office, many of us were forced to reevaluate our willingness to perform telehealth. We had to decide whether we would offer it, or if we would refer those patients needing care to doctors who did.  

In my practice, we jumped right in. When the governor told us to stay home, telehealth offered a way for me to reach out to my high-risk patients who were calling in with concerns. Seeing them over video offered comfort on two levels—one, they saw my face and I saw theirs, reinforcing the doctor/patient relationship that we have valued for so long. And two, it reassured the patient that it was okay to come in if needed. Seeing my reaction to their bright red eye, my recommendation that they come in, and my reassurance about the measures we had taken to make the office safe made them much more comfortable coming in. During the shelter-in-place directive, I was able to initiate treatment for about 80% of the patients I saw through telehealth. The other 20% needed to come in for further diagnosis and felt more comfortable doing so after our first meeting over video.

Now that the practice has reopened, we are continuing to see patients through telehealth. In fact, many patients are requesting telehealth visits over in-office because their initial experiences have been so positive. This is a win-win for our practice: We have a decreased patient load in the office to accommodate social distancing and increased cleaning time, so I’m able to squeeze in telehealth appointments and fill some of those revenue gaps.  

I would strongly advise my peers to consider adding this capability. Telehealth may be out of your comfort zone, but providing this option to your patients speaks to how you’re willing to modify and adapt your practice to meet patient needs. To not entertain telehealth implies there are certain patient needs that you’re unwilling to meet. 

Once you’ve decided to make the leap, I encourage you to do some trial runs. Do a telehealth visit with your parents or one of your associates who's still at home; play with the system; understand the system; create step-by-step instructions for your practice. And right now, because of a waiver the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has put through, you can even use everyday popular applications--something as simple as FaceTime or Skype can be used for telehealth. If you have any question about how useful it can be to your practice, try some of the free platforms. There are several tutorials online to help get you up to speed.  

Once you’re ready to start offering telehealth to your patients, prepare an email like this one to help patients get ready for their telehealth appointment. It includes information about what is required before the appointment, including vision and medical plan insurance information, and a link to check their visual acuity. The email we send links to the telehealth platform that we use, It also informs patients that once they go onto the telehealth platform it becomes a billable visit, and while the patient is ultimately financially responsible, billing may be coordinated between their medical and vision plan benefits, if applicable. By reading the email and entering into the virtual waiting room, the patient acknowledges that they will be billed. We also confirm this verbally when we talk with them. 

As I see it, our patients want telehealth, and it’s here to stay. In my practice, it has allowed us to see our patients quickly and safely while positively impacting our revenue. I encourage you to give it a try.

For additional telehealth resources and information for your practice, visit the VSP Provider Hub Telehealth Resource Page.

VSP cannot and does not provide professional, financial, medical or legal advice. Interested parties should consult with professional association guidelines, state labor resources, financial advisors, and/or an attorney for advice. 

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