Getting started with telehealth
During the COVID-19 public health emergency, the federal government is encouraging health care providers to use telehealth to see patients via virtual appointments.
Types of telehealth
Telehealth includes video visits, phone calls, online communication, and storing patient data. Your practice may provide telehealth services using email or sharing lab results in a secure patient portal. Potential uses of telehealth extend beyond COVID-19 services.
Asynchronous telehealth is communication between providers, patients, and caregivers stored for future reference or response. Examples include:
- E-mail or text messages with follow-up instructions or confirmations
- Images for evaluation
- Lab results or vital statistics
Synchronous care is a ‘real-time’ interaction for patient health communication. Patients can have caregivers or in-home nursing present to assist the remote physician. Examples include:
- Video calls to share progress or check on healing
- Audio only calls to confirm instructions
- Text messaging to answer patient questions
Remote patient monitoring consists of transmitting and storing patient data and clinical measurements from in-home devices to patient portals. This data transmission may be either asynchronous or support synchronous provider visits. Examples include data from:
- Blood pressure monitors
- Glucose meters
mHealth is an evolving area where digital applications on smartphones can support patients between provider visits. Smartphones and third-party apps can assist with:
- Remote patient monitoring
- Push notifications reminding patients to follow treatment plans
- Storing detailed instructions or education materials
Telehealth for Providers: What You Need to Know (PDF) — from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Integrating telehealth practices
There are several guides to help you start providing telehealth services — or to help you fine-tune if you’ve already started. For example:
- Telehealth Implementation Playbook — from the American Medical Association
- COVID-19 Telehealth Toolkit — from the National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers
- Telehealth Resources for COVID-19 Toolkit — from the Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center
- Revving Up Your Telemedicine Practice In The Time Of COVID (video) — from the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center
- Using Telehealth to Expand Access to Essential Health Services during the COVID-19 Pandemic — from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funds regional resource centers to support organizations that provide — or would like to provide — telehealth. These resource centers are an excellent resource for assistance, education, and information about telehealth. Find your regional telehealth resource center or contact them with any telehealth-related question .
Understanding telehealth technology options
If you have a phone or a device with the internet, you already have everything you need to provide telehealth.
During the COVID-19 public health emergency, health care providers may use any non-public facing application to communicate with patients without risking any federal penalties — even if the application isn’t in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Read more about this in FAQs on Telehealth and HIPAA during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency. Health care providers that seek additional privacy protections should provide such services through technology vendors that are HIPAA compliant and will enter into HIPAA business associate agreements in connection with the provision of their video communication products. Read more about policy changes during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Finding a telehealth vendor
You have a number of options for telehealth delivery. The first step is to identify any technology that you have access to already. For example, your patient portal may have some types of telehealth functionality built in.
Once you’ve identified what technology you already have, here are some questions to assist in researching additional options:
- How does the vendor protect personal health information?
- Is a contract required?
- Does it require any special equipment?
- Is there a waiting room feature?
- Can staff or patients schedule visits through the platform?
- Can patients provide consent to receive telehealth on the platform itself?
- Will your patients need to download an application to have a telehealth visit?
For guidance on selecting a vendor:
- Digital Health Implementation Playbook Step 4: Evaluating the Vendor (PDF) — from the American Medical Association
- Selecting a Vendor Guide (PDF) — from the American Medical Association
- Vendor Intake Form (PDF) — from the American Medical Association
- Clinician’s Guide to Video Platforms — from the National Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center
Resources on telehealth vendors and providers
Telemedicine & Telehealth Service Provider Directory — from the Arizona Telemedicine Program and Southwest Telehealth Resource Center, funded by HRSA. This directory lists companies providing telehealth for medical specialty services (such as radiology, rheumatology, neurology, psychiatry) and ancillary services (such as patient education and language interpretation).
Digital Health Directory — from the Consumer Technology Association and the American Telemedicine Association. This directory provides a curated list of telehealth services available to patients and health care providers.
Disclaimer: This list does not constitute an endorsement, certification, or recommendation of specific technology, software, applications, or products.
Tip: Learn more about implementing telehealth, directly from health care providers, via this CDC webinar on COVID-19 & Telehealth Implementation: Stories from the Field.