How to start a virtual clinic

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a huge increase in telemedicine visits, but the reopening of clinics doesn’t mean the virtual model will be going offline. Hospitals have seen a surge in virtual visits this spring. From March 15 to April 27, 2019, Mount Carmel Health System in Ohio had 19 virtual healthcare visits; during that same span this year, the system had 19,532 virtual visits.

Some physical clinics have chosen to add a virtual clinic to their offerings, and they’ve received significant monetary support. New York-based Tia Health raised over $24 million in a new round of funding. Leaders say the funds will be used to expand its telehealth and clinical services to new markets.

If you want to move your practice online or start a virtual clinic of your own — which will allow you to serve more patients and enjoy more flexibility — here are some steps you need to take.

Set up your business 

If you’re not already in practice, you need to set up your business in the eyes of the law. Consult an attorney who specializes in corporate law and your local medical board for information on how you can incorporate your clinic.

You also need to set up a business bank account and get any licenses necessary to operate. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) or a local small business incubator or association can provide you with resources and information on how to do this.

Get to know local laws

If you want to get reimbursed for virtual visits, find out if your state has a parity law that covers telemedicine. A parity law requires private insurers to cover these visits the same way they’d cover an in-person visit.

Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia have these parity laws on the books. And most insurance providers will cover at least some telehealth services, as will Medicare and Medicaid.

Check state laws to determine what you can and can’t do in a virtual visit. For example, some states won’t let you see a patient for the first time via a virtual visit. Others won’t let you prescribe controlled substances, like Adderall, during a telehealth appointment.

Create a space for virtual clinic appointments

In addition to the areas where you normally see patients, set up an area, like a private office, where you can conduct virtual visits. This should be a quiet space with good lighting so that your patients can see you clearly and feel like they’re getting the same amount of attention they would in person.

Invest in the right equipment for virtual visits. Most of the video conferencing tools you’ll use require a good quality camera, a microphone, and a computer or mobile device. You probably already have this hardware, but you might want to invest in a webcam and microphone so your patients can see and hear you better.

Choose your software

Before you pay for any software programs, make sure they comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The software provider should sign a business associate agreement (BAA), which is required to protect you against HIPAA violations should patient information be compromised on their end.

There are a lot of video conferencing platforms that are specifically for healthcare, like Doxy.me, VSee, and Updox. While Zoom may be best known for its enterprise platform, it does offer a HIPAA-compliant product, Zoom for Healthcare. You could also use Cisco Webex. The idea is to choose something that’s easy for both you and your patients.

Pick something that will help you with things like patient intake, informed consent, collecting payment, and scheduling. JotForm offers HIPAA-compliant forms with customizable templates and payment gateway integrations.

For example, before you have a virtual visit with a patient, you can send them a link to an informed consent form to fill out so that they’re aware of their privacy rights. With JotForm, you can embed an electronic signature widget, which lets your patient sign the form. They can then send it back to you before the appointment so you have it on file.

Fragment of a dental informed consent form template

Ultimately, when you set up your virtual clinic, you’ll not only want to make sure you’re doing it legally but that you’re able to provide the same standard of care that your patients expect during an in-person visit. Choose software that will support you as you conduct virtual visits and will be easy for your patients to use.

This article is originally published on Jun 04, 2020, and updated on Jun 26, 2020
Firm believer in personal data privacy in the age of information. Close follower of the new regulations concerning patient confidentiality & HIPAA. You can reach George through his contact form.

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