Best Practices for Virtual Care and flattening the curve of COVID-19

Right now, response time is critical to flatten the curve of COVID-19. You need to activate a virtual care plan as quickly as possible, but there’s no room for getting it wrong. Below are four best practices for virtual care you need to consider when establishing your plan for addressing the challenges created by the COVID-19 health crisis.

Virtual care provided via secure email is proven to closely mimic face-to-face patient interactions, and in many cases, patients prefer it over office visits. It also removes the requirement to align schedules. Studies show physicians are able to address patient concerns using secure email in about a quarter of the time of an in-person visit, creating the capacity to respond to more critical cases in-person.

When selecting your secure email service for providing virtual care consider these four best practices:

1. Put privacy compliance first:

Most of the ways people communicate online were not built to comply with the privacy regulations that keep patient information safe. The last thing you want is to add the burden of dealing with a privacy breach on top of extra demand for your services during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Traditional email is not secure and posses the additional risk of being the way most ransomware attacks get in.

Commercial video conferencing services like zoom and Microsoft Teams were made for business communications without consideration for the rigour required to meet important protections unique to the transmission of patient information.

2. Use a familiar platform/interface:

There isn’t time to train staff, patients, and collaborating clinics on a new type of communication. The interface matters a lot. A secure messaging service that looks and feels like the traditional email everyone is used to means the adoption curve will be short so patients can start using it as soon as you invite them.

Ensure the service you chose is barrier-free, signup is easy, and has technical support available for all users. You also want to be able to easily invite new users to communicate with you, both patients and professionals. 

3. Identify patients and encounters that fit virtual care: 

Virtual care is an important way to minimize unnecessary clinic visits and keep people at home to reserve capacity for the patients that need it most during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also gives doctors the ability to monitor patients in isolation. 

Virtual care is versatile but doesn’t work for every patient, condition, or encounter. 

  • Consider age. Most seniors are comfortable emailing but may struggle to make video conferencing platforms work at home.
  • Patient complaints that require a physical evaluation are best seen in clinics.
  • Certain encounters, such as an important diagnosis, are more sensitive and are best served with face-to-face interaction.

Here is a list of standard interactions that are a good fit for virtual care:

    • Deliver opinion and treatment recommendations 
    • Responding to questions about a general health problem (cold, rash, etc)
    • Review and provide interpretation of lab results 
    • Answer questions about treatment followup
    • Receiving information about a change in a patient’s health status
    • Discuss medications

4. Establish guidelines for use: 

Set expectations with patients, staff, and providers around how quickly a response will be received. It is important to note that virtual care/communication channels should not be used for emergency situations. 

Research and widespread clinical use have proven that patients do not abuse virtual email-like access to their clinics and physicians. However, in the case of patients that send too frequent or inappropriate messages, it is helpful to have a pre-written response explaining clinic policies to cut and paste into a message.

5. Remove the complexity of scheduling:

Video platforms still require an alignment of schedules and can often lead to cancellations. Secure email is more flexible. 

Email is understood by everyone to be asynchronous, there is no expectation of immediate response and either side of the communication can respond as they are available. 

Get free secure email for your clinic today.

To help reduce the increasing strain of COVID-19 on our healthcare system, Brightsquid has made Secure-Mail free for all medical providers in Canada. Secure-Mail is used to treat patients remotely (keeping them home) and reduce administrative burden in clinics.

All clinics that already had free Secure-Mail access have been upgraded to have unlimited access. 

If you’re new to Secure-Mail, click here to request your free account.