Telehealth — How To

I’ve been doing telehealth for a few years. Now everyone wants in due to the coronavirus pandemic. My partner, John Sutherland, Ph.D., and I have been furiously spinning up mental health and addiction clinicians at Allina Health. We transitioned at least 75 providers this week and more will soon follow.

This post will provide some practical advice for those new to telehealth. It comes straight from the trainings that John and I have delivered in recent days.

Keep it Simple
I use a number of telehealth platforms including Vidyo, Epic Warp Drive and Zoom for Healthcare. I recommend Zoom for Healthcare if you need to get up fast and don’t have an IT department supporting you. It’s literally purchase and practice. Patients just need the Zoom app, which is device and operating system agnostic (and free!). Make sure you get a Business Associate Agreement to achieve HIPAA compliance (although a safe harbor [waiver] exists during the current public health emergency).

Be Professional
I remind providers that they are health professionals, not creepy basement YouTubers. The following are small touches that make a big difference

  • Use good lighting. Cheap solutions are readily available on Amazon
  • Place your camera at eye level. Options include putting your laptop on a few reams of paper
  • Use a headset microphone. I like Sennheiser gaming headsets with noise-cancelling microphones
  • Select a bland background. If none is readily available, blow in a virtual background
  • Minimize environmental distractions. Under the current circumstances, that might include your kids and dog
  • Look into your camera often. That’s where your patient is, not elsewhere on your screen (even if that’s where they appear to be)

Documentation
Payment for telehealth requires that certain elements appear in your visit documentation. The following is the header of my charting templates, where *** are elements that are populated for each encounter

  • Date of Service: ***
  • Start Time: ***
  • End Time: ***
  • Type of Service: Evaluation and management (E/M)
  • Type of Encounter: Telehealth [or: Virtual health]
  • Mode of Transmission: Secure, synchronous, real-time audio and video communication via Vidyo
  • Originating Site: *** [patient location — city and state]
  • Distant Site: Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Basis for Service: Virtual health, in my judgment, is an appropriate and effective means for providing this service secondary to the current COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing. I have previously seen the patient for traditional in-office care and consider their mental status, including the absence of imminent danger, amenable to virtual care

Good luck! ✸

Author: doctorfrenz

I'm a physician specializing in addiction medicine