In this article, we explore the many opportunities telemedicine presents for small practices and strategies to implement these services.
Are you noticing how telehealth, once a bonus add-on, has now become one of the most requested healthcare services? 2022 marked a significant milestone in the adoption of telemedicine—seeing over a third of patients (38 percent) receive care via telehealth. The adoption rate among healthcare providers for tele-visits/virtual visits has skyrocketed, increasing from 14% in 2016 to an incredible 80% in 2022.
The anticipation is that the telehealth market will reach $194.1 billion by the end of the year. It's also projected to grow even further to an impressive $459.8 billion by 2030! For small medical practices, this shift towards telemedicine is not just about keeping up with another trend. It's about grabbing your share of exciting new opportunities to improve the care of your patients, finding new streams of revenue, and ensuring your medical practice is financially sustainable.
The Telemedicine Landscape
The telemedicine industry has exploded in recent years, heavily fueled by advancements in technology, shifting patient preferences, and new policies expanding telehealth access and reimbursement. These services involve the use of technology to deliver healthcare services remotely. This, in turn, increases accessibility, especially for patients in remote areas or those unable to travel. Offering virtual visits and remote patient monitoring provides flexibility and caters to patient preferences.
For small medical practices, telemedicine allows healthcare providers to extend their reach beyond their close geographical area, which will eventually attract a larger patient base. It also provides an opportunity to offer after-hours care, and this can be a significant revenue generator. Telemedicine is also relevant to small practices because it provides opportunities to improve patient satisfaction. It offers a more convenient and comfortable experience since patients can receive care from the comfort of their own homes.
- A few factors driving growth include rising smartphone and internet usage, advancements in telecom infrastructure, growing acceptance of telemedicine, and a more patient-centric healthcare landscape.
- The global telemedicine market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 18.75% from 2022 to 2028, ultimately reaching a total value of $233.49 billion by 2028.
- More patients are becoming more comfortable using telehealth compared to 3-5 years ago.
Today's patients are becoming increasingly comfortable with using technology in their everyday lives, and this expands to their healthcare experiences. They appreciate the convenience and flexibility that these services offer. This includes decreased travel time and the ability to schedule appointments at times that suit them. The changes in patient expectations mean that small medical practices that adopt telehealth are likely to see increased patient engagement and satisfaction. This can lead to higher patient retention rates and ultimately, increased revenue.
Leveraging Telemedicine for Revenue Growth
Implementing telemedicine carefully presents significant revenue growth opportunities for small practices. With the right strategy, telehealth services can attract new patients, create additional revenue streams, and optimize operations to reduce costs. Expanding into these services can have direct and indirect financial impacts. Direct revenue is generated from telehealth consult fees that can often be billed at parity with in-person visits.
The average reimbursement rate for telemedicine services will vary depending on the payor mix and the specific services provided. For example, when a patient with a condition of moderate severity is evaluated and managed, the typical payment is around $99 when it is delivered through telehealth. Overall, the average reimbursement rate for certain codes can range anywhere from $47 to $85.
These services unlock new ways to generate revenue. Practices can launch direct-to-consumer virtual urgent care options and bill self-pay patients at affordable prices. It also enables participation in remote patient monitoring programs. These programs allow providers to charge monthly fees for the virtual tracking of patients with chronic conditions, and this helps generate passive revenue.
Telemedicine visits require less staff overhead than in-office appointments. Doctors can carry out back-to-back video visits without rooming or discharge assistance. Automated appointment self-scheduling and intake processes also lead to administrative time and cost savings. When small practices unlock these types of operational efficiencies, they can significantly improve their profit margins.
Strategies for Implementing Telemedicine in Small Practices
Choosing the right platform is one of the most important steps that small practices should focus on. Small practices should look for an intuitive platform that is also user-friendly, and that seamlessly integrates with their EHR and workflow. HIPAA compliance, data security, and technical support are also key factors that small practices absolutely cannot afford to not have. One of the best ways to ensure your small practice successfully implements these services is to shop around and use consultations, demos, and trials to find the best fit.
Once a platform is chosen, thorough and ongoing staff training is a must. Staff should be comfortable with the software, workflows, and troubleshooting. One step you can take to ensure your staff has a high comfort level is to create internal telemedicine process documents and quick reference guides. You can also help get your staff up to speed by using mock visits. Small practices must stay up to date on regulations and requirements, which will differ by state. Make sure your practice has informed consent procedures, licensure, and privacy policies. Legal assistance will also be available to review any potential liability risks.
Once all those elements are in place, you can promote telemedicine services through your practice's website, patient portal, social media channels, and within the practice itself. Talk to your patients about the benefits of these services and their ease of use. Send reminders about availability for follow-ups and chronic care. Patient satisfaction surveys can be a valuable source of feedback.
Billing and Reimbursement
Telemedicine billing has many complexities that small practices must understand to be properly reimbursed. Billing codes, modifiers, and place of service indicators for these services are not the same as regular in-person visits. Rules will change across private payers such as Medicare, and Medicaid. Keeping up with changes takes a great amount of effort. Small practices must verify telemedicine coverage and reimbursement rates with each payer. Policies differ greatly regarding which services are covered, facility fees, site rules, provider restrictions, and more. Always be sure to confirm requirements for reimbursement such as technological specifications, use of video, and patient consent.
Exploring all options that could maximize the appropriate reimbursement for these services is another crucial step. Additionally, bill for remote patient monitoring and chronic care management when suitable and use additional provider time for telehealth coordination and appeal denied claims that meet requirements.
Telehealth policies and regulations evolve quickly. It is important to appoint someone on staff to monitor guidance from Medicare, Medicaid, private payers, AMA, etc. You can also stay in the loop by subscribing to newsletters and carefully reviewing policy updates. Be proactive when it comes to adjusting your practice's billing procedures and workflows to ensure compliance and optimal reimbursement.
Telemedicine Best Practices
Delivering high-quality and compassionate telehealth services will involve a few best practices, such as prioritizing patient engagement and communication. To deliver the best service to your patients, explain the tele-visit process and technology that will be used ahead of time so patients can feel comfortable and so the visit can be completed as smoothly as possible. Your telehealth visits should recreate as much of an in-person visit feel as possible.
- Use reliable technology and ensure a stable internet connection for clear audio and video. Stay prepared and on time for virtual appointments, just like you would for an in-person visit.
- Make the process of scheduling and attending virtual appointments easy for patients. Give them clear instructions on how to use the telemedicine platform and offer technical support.
- Regularly collect and review patient feedback. This can provide valuable insights into what's working well and what's not working. Use this feedback to make improvements to your services.
- Make sure you are using a platform that is secure and compliant with healthcare data privacy regulations and that patients know how their data will be used and stored – patients should feel comfortable with how their data will be used.
If you can follow these best practices, your medical practice can deliver high-quality telehealth services that meet patients' needs and expectations.
Implementing Telehealth Options to Drive Revenue: Case Study
The potential of telemedicine to drive revenue growth for small medical practices is being realized by several practices across the country in different specialties. By integrating telehealth, several practices have increased patient access, improved outcomes, and created new revenue streams. Telehealth has allowed small practices to optimize provider capacity, reduce their overhead, keep their patients, expand into new markets, and receive reimbursements for delivering remote care.
For example, Green Mountain Partners for Health has been practicing telemedicine for three years, using Zoom as their teleconferencing platform. This widely used platform offers a secure healthcare system that uses encryption, the ability to integrate with Electronic Health Records (EHRs), and compliance with HIPAA. The main expense associated with their telehealth service is a monthly fee of $160.
While recognizing telemedicine's limitations, this practice, and others, have been able to tap into its strengths to improve its bottom line. Any small practice that has a telemedicine success story shows the true value and revenue potential of telehealth for small practices.
Like any innovation that takes off and has a major impact, telemedicine comes with its challenges. Here are just a few common challenges that small practices may face when it comes to these services:
- Technological barriers
- Language and cultural barriers
- Differences in access
- Patient and/or administrative engagement
- Non-verbal communication challenges
To ensure a smooth experience, a contingency plan needs to be in place for technical issues. Providing patients with guidance on how to troubleshoot common system, browser, or device problems can be helpful. Virtual tech support could also be an option. It's important to assess each patient's home connectivity and technical capabilities to determine if telemedicine is a suitable approach, or if an in-person visit would be more appropriate.
Be ready to transition to a phone visit if necessary and consider providing devices or internet hotspots to patients who do not have access. When challenges surface, maintaining a patient-focused approach is key so have understanding and constructive conversations to explore other solutions if this type of service isn't the right fit for a patient at that time.
The Future of Telemedicine in Small Practices
Telemedicine is going to continue playing a major role in healthcare delivery. Continued expansion of remote patient monitoring programs and at-home testing offers more opportunities to integrate telehealth. These services can increase access for patients. However, it is important not to view it as a complete replacement for in-person care. Small practices should carefully integrate telehealth as part of their larger delivery model based on their specialty, resources, and patient population needs.
Explore BillFlash for All Your Telehealth Billing and Payment Needs
Telemedicine presents tremendous opportunities for small practices to extend their care delivery models, improve patient outcomes, and drive revenue growth. By thoughtfully implementing telehealth platforms, optimizing billing practices, using innovations like remote patient monitoring, and providing high-quality virtual care, your small practice can experience significant revenue growth.
Managing the billing complexities connected with telemedicine reimbursement is key to realizing its full revenue potential. From pre-visit billing to eBill Notices via text and email, BillFlash provides specialized medical billing and payment services to streamline telehealth visits. Our end-to-end solution optimizes telehealth revenue and reduces the administrative burden for small practices.