Over the last several years, it’s become clear that telehealth is here to stay. According to the American Psychiatric Association, nearly 60% of Americans would use telehealth for mental healthcare, and 43% currently want to continue using telehealth services when the pandemic is over.
With that data — and telehealth’s ability to expand access to high-quality providers — it’s no surprise that organizations are thinking through how to start a telemental health practice and leverage it as a long-term solution.
But, if your organization is wondering how to build a telepsychiatry practice in-house, you should consider some important first steps, limitations, and potential alternatives (like formal behavioral health vendor partnerships).
1. Building a telehealth program in-house won’t solve any recruitment challenges
As a medical group dedicated to providing virtual care services to healthcare organizations across the country, Iris Telehealth has access to a provider pool that spans all 50 states. However, individual organizations just starting to transition to telehealth as a long-term solution will likely be limited to the same provider pool they’d use for in-person providers.
And that’s not the only challenge you might encounter. For example, if you have an in-person provider who you think might transition to telehealth on a full-time or part-time basis, they may decide they don’t like telepsychiatry after all. Or they may get scooped up by another organization because they’re not limited by geographical location anymore.
At Iris, however, we not only assess their clinical skills, but their technical skills and screen presence as well. We have an intensive vetting process to make sure telepsychiatry is a good fit for that individual provider.
2. A formal telehealth program requires specific technological considerations
As you’re learning how to start a telepsychiatry practice in-house, you should ask yourself these questions:
- Do we have the right video platform?
- Do we have the right security in place (i.e. VPNs)?
- Will our platform work for our current staff and patients?
- Is our program HIPAA compliant?
- Do we have sufficient IT support for handling technological difficulties or glitches?
If you’re uncertain about the answers to any of these questions, a vendor partner like Iris Telehealth might benefit you and your team as you navigate this process. (And, even if we’re not an official partner of yours, we’d be happy to talk through your needs with you.)
3. The telehealth landscape is constantly changing (and may be hard to navigate on your own)
Policies in the behavioral health space continue to evolve. Whether it’s around HIPAA compliance, reimbursements for audio-only appointments, or billing and coding — things continue to change as more states pass legislation that permanently expands telehealth services.
It can be challenging to stay on top of all the relevant changes as just one healthcare organization. No matter your size or approach to telehealth, the organization needed to manage telehealth-specific policies will likely be a big lift for your team.
That’s where a vendor partner may come in handy to offer perspectives on how similar organizations are navigating this space right now.
4. You’ll need dedicated, telehealth-specific policies for your providers
There’s a lot of information and “what ifs” to consider if you’re trying to build your own telehealth program.
Here are just a few of the policies you might want to put into place:
- A standard 90-day grace period for providers leaving your organization. If you don’t tell your provider when they start that they have to give you 90 days’ notice, you may not have time to find a replacement provider when they leave. 90-day policies protect clinics, providers, and patients.
- A strong policy around computer usage. You don’t want someone accidentally putting a virus on your network if they’re using their computer for other things or are engaging with spammy content.
- No-show policies and policies for telehealth, specifically around remote patients (not in your clinic).
- Policies around when the telehealth provider should end a session or not have a session with a particular patient.
- A billing policy for patients who show up late to appointments.
- Standard prescribing rules and protocols.
5. Your EMR may not be set up for behavioral health or telehealth right now
If you’re determined to build your telehealth program in-house, the first thing you need to look at is the capabilities and limitations of your EMR.
Make sure you have it set up for behavioral health before you do anything else. A common mistake organizations (particularly FQHCs and CHCs beginning psych services for the first time) make is trying to run their virtual behavioral health program the same way they run their primary care. When that happens, they often end up overbooking providers. But behavioral health is a different paradigm.
Remember, ideally, you want your EMR to be able to encompass your scheduling, patient records, e-prescribing, and video in one system.
A formal behavioral health partner could help support you and your organization
One of the unique benefits of telepsychiatry and a partnership with Iris is our Clinical Operations Managers (COMs). We’re a concierge service whose number one goal is making sure you and your patients are getting the care and support you need. If, for example, there’s a scheduling issue or a provider conflict we can help resolve it using solutions we have seen and used at clinics across the country.
Every day, we help mediate and advocate for clinics and clinicians to ensure there’s efficient and effective patient care.
Here’s what that would mean for your organization:
- Our 24/7 IT support can interface with your organization’s IT to solve problems and can often independently solve them for our providers.
- We have support for billing and scheduling issues.
- We are Joint Commission accredited — which means we can assist with provider credentialing and paneling (we have some partners who do credentialing by proxy with us).
- We match your organization with a top-quality provider who specializes in the areas you need (and who we’ve already vetted to ensure virtual care is a good fit for them).
- After we’ve matched a provider with your organization, we help make sure they have the right technology and that the doctor knows what they need to know to evaluate your patients.
- We assume all of the expenses of the benefits and PTO.
- We are a true partner dedicated to long-term care and service. We make sure our providers are an extension of your team and do everything in our power to ensure continuity of care for your patients.
Whether you’re interested in learning how to make your own program a success or creating a formal partnership with Iris, we’re here to help. Contact us today to get the conversation started.