Getting Started

Determining your starting point is hard, so let’s start with a self-assessment. Here are ten questions you need to ask yourself, and understand the answers to, before you dive in to picking platforms and setting protocols. These questions take you through this implementation canvas- fill it out as you go, and this can help you create a more structured plan!

1. What is my current state of telehealth? What are we doing right now that is considered telehealth, but we don’t charge for it or document it correctly? How do we stop that behavior and redirect it to a new telehealth platform? I.E emails, texts, phone calls from all team members, CSRs providing general advice, clients just ‘stopping by’. Create a training document or decision tree for your team to follow so they know how to direct questions from day one. Provide incentives for the most referrals to the systems, or however you choose to measure success for the transition.

2. Who is the people or persons that will be the champion for telehealth in your team? What will their responsibilities be? Typically, this is someone who is a digital native and strongly believes in using telehealth in your practice. They’ll be your point person for tech problems, enthusiastically getting both clients and the team excited, and can monitor the success of the system. Having a champion on every team- CSRs, assistants, nurses, and DVMs- is even better! Give these people a special team or title.

3. What kind of telehealth do you want to provide? This can range from the broadest definition of telehealth- providing general advice to anyone about their pets, 24/7- or extremely narrow, to only providing true telemedicine to your own patients’ neuter surgical rechecks with a specific veterinary nurse only during normal business hours. It’s ok to start small and work your way up.

4. How do you want to provide the service? There is the broad capability of using email, text, video, chat, push notifications, inputs from wearable collars and other devices- or, only providing a texting line. There are many companies that offer robust veterinary telehealth platforms, and also the option to do it yourself through hackable tools. What level of technology is your practice and clientele comfortable with? You’d be successful introducing a full suite of new tools to a Silicon Valley locale, but probably not to a retirement community in Florida.

5. What are your current pain points? Is there a place in your practice that telehealth solutions could solve specific problems? I.E. CSRs spending too much time discussing health issues by phone, after hours emergency calls, DVMs doing rechecks or appointments that could be done by video, needy clients taking up more team time than necessary. List out your pain points and ensure your new protocols work to solve them.

6. What is your preferred future state? In the six months, do you want to be able to provide every aspect of telehealth, with every veterinarian and technician on your team? Or would you prefer to slowly implement only texting and email, for only a few team members? It’s important to have clear goals so you can measure your own success. Every hospital will have a slightly different system that works for them.

7. What are your possible barriers to success? Are you still working out of paper only, in a place with poor internet availability, have team members that will resist or even sabotage new initiatives? Are there certain clients that will be difficult to transition, or is cost a big limiter for you and your clients? Take time to think about your clients, team members, current processes, systems, and software, to determine what might be a problem before it actually becomes one.

8. How will you measure your success? Will it be the number of new clients acquired after offering telehealth to anyone in your city? Or the number of text messages per hour for a CSR sending out refill reminders? Or an average of client satisfaction ratings after a video call with nurses and DVMs? There are a lot of ways to measure success- meaning a lot of ways to gamify and incentivize your team to continue to improve!

9. Are you keeping in all the legal lines? Most states allow any telemedicine to occur as long as there is an intact veterinary client patient relationship. A few states are now allowing, or on the verge of allowing, a “digital VCPR” to form- meaning soon, you may be diagnosing, treating, and prescribing to patients that you’ve never touched. Until that happens, though, make sure your veterinary license is up to date, you know the difference between telehealth and telemedicine, and you are obeying your own state’s rules and regulations. It’s also a good idea to check with your liability insurance to ensure that they cover any care done through electronic means.

10. How will you promote this? Marketing, marketing, marketing. In order for a new initiative to be successful, you’ll need to put some muscle behind it. Ask every CSR to mention it in the sign off of every call, every assistant and nurse to recommend it in the exam room, and every doctor to schedule certain telemed appointments, like rechecks, every time. Stuff flyers in baggies, create promotions, put it on your website, and put signage in every waiting room and exam room. Put it in the sign off of every email. Don’t give your clients the excuse of not knowing about it, and be persistent- it takes months to build habits!

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