How To Implement a Virtual Care Platform in Your Healthcare Practice

As people become increasingly drawn to the convenience and benefits that modern technology brings to their everyday lives, many are also going virtual to meet their healthcare needs. For healthcare organizations such as clinics and hospitals, ensuring you have a means of providing virtual care can help you maximize the number of patients you can treat and help create a more efficient workplace for your staff. With a variety of virtual care platforms available today and various ways of implementing them throughout your organization, knowing the correct measures to take can help you ensure the virtual care platform you use is being fully utilized so your patients and staff can benefit from all it has to offer.

 

Doctor consulting woman virtually

 

Finding and Implementing the Right Virtual Care Platform for Your Healthcare Practice

When it comes to finding and implementing a virtual care platform for your organization, there are several things you should consider to ensure you are getting maximum benefits. While it can be demanding to implement new systems and processes in your workplace, this blog will provide you with an overview of the steps you can take to effectively implement and continue using a virtual care platform in your healthcare organization.

Assess the Needs of Your Organization and It’s Patients

With a vast selection of virtual care platforms available, you must first know what to look for when choosing the right one for your staff and your patients. If your organization is primarily focused on treating patients who have illnesses that require continuous monitoring, you will want to ensure the platform you choose is able to facilitate this. Additional features that can make this type of care easier for patients and staff include care plan management, video conferencing, instant messaging, and clinical workflows.

In contrast, if your organization sees patients on a shorter-term basis, such as in a walk-in clinic or urgent primary care facility, a virtual care platform with fewer features may suffice. If your organization falls under this category, the main features you will need to look for are likely video conferencing, secure messaging, and features that allow you to access previous medical records and deliver prescription requests.

Research Virtual Care Platforms

Female doctor waving at patient on video call

Before selecting a platform, you must conduct diligent research to ensure you are choosing a platform that meets your organization’s needs and follows the laws of your region. Depending on the country, state, province, or territory you are in, there are varying regulations that must be followed when it comes to delivering healthcare services and handling patients’ sensitive information. If you are a healthcare provider in Canada, you are likely familiar with the many regulations in place. As with any healthcare system, virtual care platforms must also comply with these regulations.

Some additional things to look for when researching virtual care platforms are the company’s reputation, the types of healthcare organizations they currently serve (such as hospitals or clinics), the costs associated with using their platform, and their level of customer service. With most virtual care platform providers, you can set up a demo or consultation to delve deeper and learn more about the platform before you land on a decision.

Create an Implementation Plan

Female doctor leading team meeting

Once you have a platform chosen, you must begin planning for how it will be implemented throughout your organization. As this will be a significant adjustment for your staff and some patients, having a plan can help you ensure they are comfortable with this change and things go smoothly as you begin utilizing the platform.

Some planning you can do before implementation includes: determining the methods you will use to train staff and patients on how to use the different features of the platform, establishing which patients will receive care through the platform, and most importantly, setting goals and objectives to measure the success of your virtual care programs. Some metrics you can look at when assessing your goals include the efficiency the platform brings in terms of the time spent caring for each patient, the number of virtual visits your staff conducts, patient and provider satisfaction, and anything else that you are looking to improve on in your organization with the help of your virtual care platform.

Train Staff

As there will be many changes in terms of how your team delivers care to patients, ensuring they are adequately trained can help you achieve success when implementing a virtual care platform. It is likely that the provider of your platform has already put together some materials that can be used when training staff, however there are several other things that staff will need to be trained on prior to making the platform available to patients.

When it comes to training staff on virtual care, there are three main areas that should be focused on. These include the access and handling of patient data, patient safety, and teaching staff how to educate patients on the various functions and features of your virtual care platform.

Educate Patients

Male patient speaking to doctor on video call

Once all members of your organization have become familiar with the platform you will be using and are acquainted with the best practices for providing care virtually, the next step is to educate patients. As patient education is perhaps one of the most pressing challenges faced by healthcare organizations when implementing virtual care, ensuring they are equipped with the right tools and knowledge can drastically improve the outcomes of this shift.

A survey conducted by Medical Economics found that 60% of physicians reported explaining how to use telehealth to patients as being the biggest challenge they faced when using telehealth. To bypass this challenge, patients can be provided with an in-depth initial walkthrough of the platform, along with guides and resources they can follow from home if they ever become stuck or are unsure of how to use its features in the future.

Making the Most of Your Virtual Care Platform

By assessing the needs of your organization and its patients, conducting research on platforms, creating a plan for implementation, and educating your staff and patients, you can expect to see a smooth transition to virtual care for everyone involved. After successfully implementing a virtual care platform, you will also naturally begin seeing a number of improvements, such as increased efficiency and patient health outcomes.

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COPD Education – Onboarding

Objective

To complete a thorough needs assessment / initial evaluation for a COPD patient of an outpatient clinic

Actors
Patient, Educator (Nurse, RT, the Physician could also be the educator)

Timelines
One 60-90 min session with the Educator

Description
  • This protocol should be established for all COPD patients from a given clinic, independently of whether they are new patients or they are known to the clinic. This protocol is the basis to engage the patient into other protocols such as education, exacerbation follow-up, etc.
  • We need to identify patient goals/concerns to guide the interventions
  • A thorough evaluation is carried on, with the objective of understanding where the patient is on their disease journey and follow-up treatable traits: dyspnea, exacerbation or dyspnea and exacerbation.
  • It includes the use of objective questionnaires such as the mMRC, CAT, HADS, Frailty Scale, etc.
  • Identify if the patient needs to be referred to other resources (e.g. Physiotherapist, social worker, occupational therapist)
  • Once Onboarding is completed, the patient continues to the COPD Education workflow
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COPD Education – Continuous Maintenance

Objective 

To cover in depth all the necessary elements of self-management education as per the LWWCOPD, with priorities based on patient goals and identified treatable traits

Actors
Patient, Educator (Nurse, RT or Physician)

Timelines
A number of “Core” educational modules have been identified which cover the basic COPD education from the LWWCOPD program. Additionally, optional modules can be used to respond to patient needs. The timeline (frequency, number of modules to be covered at a given education session) is fully customizable, although we recommend to have education sessions every 2-weeks during the “active” phase of education. Once this is completed, the patient continues to the Maintenance Mode (see below).

Description
  • Launched at the onboarding protocol
  • Provide basic overview of COPD self-management based on LWWCOPD (medication adherence, inhaler techniques, PLB technique & energy conservation) up to the development of an Action plan for early exacerbation recognition and management.
  • Prioritize self-learning by the patient (e.g. watching videos, reading educational materials, completing homework) in addition to live sessions with the Educator. Educational materials are sent to the patient directly via the platform, and become the patient’s own library. The Educator can customize which “homework” the patient receives.
  • Educators have access to “User guides” to standardise their educational intervention. These user guides include: objectives, interventions, suggested questions, evaluation of self-efficacy, and learning contracts for each module.
  • Once the core education is completed, the patient can continue to the Respiratory Status Follow-up Workflow (run in parallel)

The Maintenance Mode
  • As soon as the maintenance mode is engaged, the frequency of visits Educator/Patient is reduced to once every 6 months.
  • During the Maintenance Mode sessions, the educator has access to all the education modules and can choose any piece of content that needs to covered with the patient. 
  • A streamlined evaluation (similar to the initial eval.) is done during each “maintenance” visit to identify any substantial changes on the patient’s needs that will require some adjustment. The patient could come back to an “active” education mode (more frequent education sessions, e.g. every 2 weeks).
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COPD Respiratory Status Follow-up

Objective

Monitoring of stable patients from a clinic in order to identify early any aggravation of symptoms (exacerbation) and implement an action plan

Actors
Patient, Educator (Nurse, RT or Physician)

Timelines
Scheduled regular automated follow-up to the patient symptoms. Intensity/Frequency can be adjusted by the Educator depending on patient needs (e.g. daily, every week, etc.). Ongoing through the year.

Description
  • Launch: Patients who have completed the Core Educational including setting-up an action plan.
  • Regular automated questions allow to identify any change in patient’s symptoms and severity.
  • If an exacerbation is detected the patient gets a reminder to engage their self-management strategies while waiting for the Educator to call back.
  • An alarm is generated for the Educator, so they immediately call back the patient. At this call they will evaluate any further intervention required and schedule additional follow-up.
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