How one physician practice was transformed by EHR-embedded telehealth
As a family medicine practitioner, Dr. Dillon Miller, medical director at Blue Ridge Medical Group in Blue Ridge, Georgia, was faced with challenges erupting from the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic presented a variety of problems when it came to continuing patient care during quarantine. The practice needed a reliable system that would enable seamless patient scheduling, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing and billing, Miller said.
“We also needed to be able to conduct patient visits while simultaneously documenting the encounter, without disruption to our workflow,” he explained. “Most important, we wanted our patients to feel safe during this time and needed a viable solution to allow them to stay in the comfort of their homes while receiving care.”
Initially, Miller used temporarily approved telehealth-modalities that were allowed due to COVID-19, and found that many of the setups were cumbersome for both the patient and the provider. The experience was often frustrating. He quickly realized that these platforms would not be long-term solutions to his telehealth needs.
But then his EHR vendor, athenahealth, recently launched athenaTelehealth. The goal of this technology was to deliver an intuitive patient-care experience for both patients and providers.
“We were very excited about being able to conduct HIPAA-compliant telehealth visits within the athenaOne app, which allows us to examine patients while updating their chart in real time,” Miller said. “It also allows us to move between appointments quickly and efficiently.”
"While change can be difficult to embrace, my biggest recommendation is to try telehealth, as it can add value to your practice, especially in unprecedented times like the COVID-19 pandemic."
Dr. Dillon Miller, Blue Ridge Medical Group
The athenaTelehealth technology also offers the completion of a full telehealth visit within the clinical encounter without disruption to Miller’s normal workflow and focus on the patient. Additionally, the team at athenahealth made the system free for a limited time during the pandemic.
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MEETING THE CHALLENGE
“The athenaTelehealth solution met the challenge we were facing by allowing us to initiate video conference calls with our patients to continue treatment and care,” Miller stated. “I have been using athenaTelehealth exclusively in my family medicine practice for several weeks now and the interface is embedded right within the athenaOne EHR, making documentation much faster and easier.”
Even Miller’s less tech-savvy patients have been able to successfully use the system. They report less confusion with the setup compared with other telehealth options. Scheduling a telehealth visit drives all downstream workflows automatically, and the integration with athenahealth’s revenue-cycle services allows for a seamless billing process, he said.
The athenaTelehealth technology has adapted to Miller’s schedule and has allowed him to be more flexible to address other priorities. For example, if a patient visit finishes 15 minutes early, he has 15 minutes at his desk to do something else productive. Additionally, the technology enables him to document while he is doing a patient visit without losing eye contact. By being able to document while chatting with the patient, he has been able to finish his workdays by the time one of his nurse practitioners, who is not yet using athenaTelehealth, starts her documentation.
“Within athenaTelehealth, one of the features that I have not seen any other telehealth solution deliver is the option of having up to four people on the visit, which has been great for our practice,” he added. “This feature really mimics the patient experience of being in the office. As an example, a Medicare Wellness nurse may be visiting with a patient and I am able to drop in for a few minutes, making it an all-encompassing visit in just one call.”
Once the patient comes online, they will talk to the person checking them in. Once they are checked in, Miller will come online and start the visit. After the visit, the patient will get checked out by another person. This has been a seamless experience, replicating a traditional patient visit many are familiar with, Miller noted.
“The overall feedback from my patients has been overwhelmingly positive,” he added. “I can interact with them in a safe, convenient environment. I’ve seen patients relaxing on the couch at home with their dog in their lap, and I have evaluated patients who were at work and took a 15-minute break instead of the day off to get treated. An autistic child I care for was more interactive and less anxious during the telehealth visit than I have ever seen him react in my office. The telehealth technology has opened doorways for patients to access care in ways that will permanently change my practice.”
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
“My patients and my staff understand telehealth is the future of patient care, and I am glad to see vendors provide quality products to facilitate this new standard of care,” he stated. “While change can be difficult to embrace, my biggest recommendation is to try telehealth, as it can add value to your practice, especially in unprecedented times like the COVID-19 pandemic. I would also advise having the telehealth solution embedded in the EHR, as it really enriches the patient-provider experience and enables much faster documentation.”
Telehealth also provides benefits to patients who are older or too sick to physically come into the office, he concluded. If more practices provided telehealth solutions to their patients, fewer crucial visits would be missed, thus allowing patients to get better quicker and stay healthier, he said.