Telehealth for follow-up care
Telehealth technology can be used to provide follow-up care for patients who were triaged but not sent to the emergency department, or for patients after they are discharged from the emergency department.
Telehealth technology can be used for simple follow-up communication through audio, video, email, text messages, and even chatbots. You may also choose to use remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices. Some RPM devices record patient vitals automatically through a wearable device, while others require patients to report their readings through an online tool or by talking with their provider.
Including follow-up care services in your telehealth program is especially important because patients who don’t follow emergency department guidance are more likely to be readmitted, putting them at higher risk of health complications. This can result in increased utilization and cost burden on the emergency department.
Benefits of using telehealth for follow-up care:
- Provides an opportunity to further engage with the patient to perform more assessments, talk to family members, ensure they understand their follow-up instructions about medications, and encourage them to schedule any referral appointments
- Provides additional care to patients who need observation but aren’t so sick that they need constant care
- Detects potential problems and treats them before they warrant a return visit to the emergency room
- Provides emotional support, especially for patients in isolation
- Provides a training opportunity for resident physicians
- Reduces hospital costs associated with unnecessary readmissions and CMS penalties for readmission for certain conditions
Using telehealth for follow-up care is especially important during COVID-19 to help:
- Follow up with lower-acuity COVID-19 patients, allowing them to stay in the comfort of their home and not take up beds or other emergency department resources
- Encourage patients to stay up-to-date with routine vaccinations and COVID-19 vaccinations
In addition to the items on the getting started page, consider:
- What follow-up services you will offer, including use of remote monitoring devices
- Who will coordinate your follow-up workflow
- When you will schedule the first follow-up appointment — ideally done before or during discharge
- How you will help patients understand the process for follow-up services
- How you will communicate with the patient for their follow-up appointment — if you’ll be calling, let them know when to expect the call so they’re more likely to answer (some may avoid the call if they think it’s the billing department)
- How often you will communicate with the patient
If exploring remote patient monitoring, also consider:
- Which devices will easily integrate with your electronic health records (EHR) platform
- How you will manage HIPAA compliance
- If you need features that help you track time for billing and reimbursement
- If you need features to help remind patients when they are due to report data
- How you will provide support to keep the devices operational
- How you will train staff
More information about follow-up care:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA allows expanded use of devices to monitor patients’ vital signs remotely — from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
SpotlightMedical University of South Carolina
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) adapted their existing telehealth program to respond to COVID-19. MUSC redesigned their virtual urgent care to screen patients for COVID-19 with the goal of providing a needed service while reducing risk by limiting exposure at the emergency department. Remote patient monitoring is used to support COVID-19 patients that could be treated at home. Existing continuous virtual monitoring technology was also adapted in high contagion risk areas so clinicians could manage patients virtually when appropriate while conserving PPE. Read more about the MUSC telehealth program and how they adapted telehealth to respond to COVID-19 .