Playbook: Convert Your Mental Health Practice to Telehealth in 5 Days or Less
April 1, 2020
Many mental health providers have been thinking about how to provide telehealth service to their patients for quite some time now, and some have already successfully made this type of service available. Now, with COVID-19 forcing patients and providers to shelter in place, it’s critical for mental health providers to pivot to a telehealth-only business model to ensure they’re able to continue providing care for their clients – and they must do so immediately.
At Valant, we’ve worked with practices that have made the transition. Here, we’ll share the steps they took to convert their practices to 100% virtual visits in just five days, as well as practical advice to use as you navigate your own journey to setting up TeleMental Health for your practice.
Step 1: Gain leadership alignment and create your plan
The first and most critical component to successfully convert your practice is alignment among your senior leadership team. It’s time to recognize and accept that the way you can provide service to your clients is evolving at a rapid pace and you must be able to adapt quickly. This is not the time to test the waters; as an organization, you must be willing to commit – and do so quickly. What this looks like:
- Adopt a war-room mentality: Set up daily standups with the senior clinical and administrative leaders who are responsible for executing the plan. Your goal is to create a sense of urgency among your team and ensure you have a unified voice about what you are doing and why.
- Keep staff informed: Set up daily communications between your senior leaders and the rest of your organization. Prioritize your talking points and ensure your team understands the plan and their role in executing it.
- Communicate to your clients: Decide on the best mechanism and cadence for communicating updates with your clients. In a time filled with uncertainty, your reassurance that you will still be available to them is critical. You may need to let them know that you have switched to all TeleHealth sessions. Some practices have had clinicians call clients directly or communicate through a clinical messaging tool, like Valant’s Secure Messaging in its Patient Portal. Another popular option is to use a campaign marketing tool, such as MailChimp or SendPulse, to communicate with your clients more efficiently.
Step 2: Set up the infrastructure for holding remote client sessions
Once you are committed to making the transition, where do you start? How do you make your existing tools work for you and what new tools or processes do you need to consider?
- Video conferencing: What platform should you use? While HIPAA compliance is an essential consideration for long-term implementation, for the immediate term, HHS requirements have been temporarily relaxed to ensure providers can maintain care with their clients. There are many platforms to choose from and it’s easy to get lost in evaluating the plethora of tools available to you. The most important considerations for your immediate platform are call quality and ease of use for both the provider and client. A popular choice for practices is to get started with HIPAA-compliant Zoom as a near-term video conferencing platform, allowing them to get their telehealth program up and running quickly.
- Online assessments: You’ll need a mechanism to set up your clinical assessments remotely. Make sure you are familiar with how this function works in your EHR or you may consider adopting an EHR system that supports this function. With Valant, clinical history forms and measures can be sent to your patients through the Patient Portal to enable them to fill out from home. Clinicians are then able to review these responses and pull them into their notes at the time of session.
- Intake paperwork & e-signatures: Ensure you have the ability to collect digital signatures on the intake paperwork. If your EHR does not offer this functionality, you may need to consider a standalone, HIPAA-compliant e-signature solution such as SignNow or IntakeQ. Valant offers customers a solution through a partnership with HelloSign.
- Digital fax: If you are not already sending and receiving faxes 100% digitally, you will need to transition to all digital. Some practices have this capability available through their printer-scanner-fax hardware solution and just needed to turn it on. Others will have to use an outside solution such as eFax or SRfax. Valant offers customers a solution through a partnership with Upland-Interfax.
- Accessing phone lines from home: While it’s tempting to use cell phones as your at-home solution, this can create a variety of issues including poor connections and dropped calls, privacy issues, and using up the data plans of your staff. Instead, ensure your administrative team has access to your organization’s phone lines from home. Your VOIP providers should have this capability available. Start right away as it might take a few days to set up. If you are using Zoom for video-conferencing, consider using their phone capability as a first option or back-up as you wait to set it up with your primary provider.
- Billing: Your billing will need to be adjusted to reflect your practice’s switch to virtual visits. If you’re not already familiar with the nuances of billing for telehealth, here is an article to help you understand how to make sure you are billing correctly. Valant was built to support TeleMental Health billing and is gathering data on enhancements that can streamline the process further.
Step 3: TeleMental Health go-live
Your team is aligned. You’ve made some critical decisions about the tools and processes that will help your business implement telehealth visits successfully. You’re ready to start seeing clients virtually, right? Almost. These last few considerations will contribute to a successful launch:
- Test your systems: Ensure your new systems and processes for loading information online works from home for everyone and as expected. Pressure test different scenarios. This step is critical to providing a good client experience and maintaining a professional image. It’s up to you to minimize any friction in your client process.
- Train your staff on the tools they need to be successful: What might seem like basic information, should not be taken for granted. Providers need to ensure they have a space suitable for meeting with clients. Adequate sound, lighting, and environment will contribute to the success of their client visits. Plan for challenges and proactively think about ways to support them when tools or processes aren’t working as expected.
- Set expectations with your clients: Consider new policies you may need to communicate to your clients to guide interactions with you or your providers. For example, you may need to provide guidance on appropriate clothing for the visit, how to ensure privacy during the appointment, how to handle visits with minors, and other steps they can take to ensure a successful session.
Step 4: TeleMental Health post go-live and longer-term planning
Converting your practice in just five days to 100% virtual is a huge accomplishment. Congratulate your peers and your staff. Take a breath. And be prepared for great feedback from clients and staff on how to improve your tools and processes in the weeks ahead.
Now, make sure you tend to client flow. Reach out to your referral sources. Update your website to ensure that you are communicating to the world that you are open for business and are there to serve the needs of your community. Reset your intake screening processes to reflect the new normal. And consider using online marketing to generate new clients.
Once you’ve established a stopgap and feel good about your client volume, it’s time to shift your planning to the long term. Evaluate your current EHR solution. Does it provide the infrastructure you need to provide care virtually? Does it address the specific needs unique to mental health? The optimal EHR will allow you to automate and enhance patient engagement, outcome measurement, and revenue – regardless of if you are providing care in-person or virtually.
Shifting your business model to 100% TeleMental Health may be daunting, but you can do it. By following the practical steps outlined in this guide, you can continue to see your patients, now virtually, with minimal disruption to their care or your business.