Telemedicine is not a new technology—it has been in use since the 1950s. Back then, when you weren’t able to get to your doctor, a quick phone call and description of symptoms stood in for an in-office visit. These days, telemedicine has so much more to offer patients and their doctors, though. And, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine for pain management doctors has quickly become a critical resource. If you’re a healthcare professional, here’s how to offer telemedicine for pain management at your clinic. Are you a patient who is looking for telemedicine for pain management options in Arizona? Contact Arizona Pain to learn more about our telehealth options.
Why is telemedicine for pain management important?
Telemedicine (also referred to as telehealth) is the practice of using technology to conduct a medical visit when an in-person visit isn’t possible or practical.
There are three main types of telemedicine for pain management:
- Video appointments: These utilize video conferencing software to connect patients and their doctors in a virtual setting
- Virtual check-ins: Virtual check-ins for established patients can be conducted on the phone or through a mobile device, like a text
- eVisits: This type of telemedicine is best used for follow-up questions for patients who have a visit history with your practice and can be conducted through email or text
When it comes to pain management, telemedicine is crucial in times where patients cannot attend an in-person visit, such as when:
- Pain patients have comorbidities that make travel impossible
- There is a major health or weather event that would make travel dangerous to the patient
- The distance a patient would have to travel is prohibitive or impossible (note that although rates of chronic pain in rural communities are similar to urban areas, 60% of the areas in the U.S. designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas are rural)
Connecting healthcare professionals
Telemedicine is also a powerful tool for doctors across the world to connect. It allows doctors to consult with each other and share sensitive health information about patients they are treating.
Using technology to bridge distance allows primary care specialists to recruit the best pain doctors to help in patients’ cases, no matter where they’re located. It also encourages collaborative medicine, allowing all of a patient’s doctors to communicate on their case.
Combined with better access to healthcare via telemedicine, this collaborative approach is improving outcomes for patients with chronic pain—no matter where they live.
Pros and cons of telemedicine for chronic pain
Telemedicine brings care to patients who are not able to access it in person. There is evidence that telemedicine actually improves outcomes for chronic pain patients. Telemedicine can also address chronic pain patients suffering from opioid use disorder. It can save patients and doctors thousands of dollars in chronic pain treatment costs.
However, no form of medicine is perfect, and telemedicine does have risks.
One risk involves patient security. Telemedicine frequently involves transferring patient files over wireless internet connections. It is crucial that sensitive health information is protected as it is delivered in this way.
In addition to minimizing risk by selecting a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform, doctors and other practicing in home offices need to take steps to ensure the security of their home or office wireless connection.
There is also room for error if medical professionals on either side of the telemedicine connection lack necessary credentials or licenses. Technicians could end up completing tasks or giving medical advice on subjects outside their area of expertise.
As telemedicine becomes more popular, protections are being implemented to ensure a safe environment and equal access for patients.
How does telemedicine for pain management work?
So how does telemedicine for pain management work? If you’re a practitioner, we first encourage you to watch this telemedicine webinar, which includes input from our own Arizona Pain doctors. In it, they discuss actionable strategies for setting up a telemedicine program for your clinic.
To summarize, though, a patient will typically initiate the appointment. If the visit is simply for a medication refill or to ask a question, this can be done via email over a secure platform. Many large medical practices use their patient portals to complete this type of visit.
For video appointments, the process is similar in that the patient initiates the appointment. On the appointed time, the patient checks into a virtual “waiting room” with a medical professional (e.g., a nurse or physician’s assistant). In the waiting room, patients offer their verbal consent to the visit and state the reason for the visit, just as they would in the office.
Once the patient is checked in, the nurse notifies the doctor. The doctor then joins the patient for a secure and private visit. After the visit, the doctor writes up their notes, authorizes prescription refills, and recommends any other follow-up visits or treatments.
The entire visit is remarkably similar to an office visit, except patients don’t have to leave home to receive care. You can watch the webinar to learn more about how to set up your desk, accessing records, and more.
How to offer telemedicine for pain management
Offering telemedicine for pain management is a great way to add value to the services you already provide for your patients. In addition to the webinar we linked to above, the American Medical Association has also published an extensive guide to setting up your telemedicine practice.
Essentially, there are six steps to set up telemedicine visits at your clinic.
1. Check in with your existing EHR vendor
Does your existing EHR vendor have telemedicine capability? If so, that might be the best place to start. They will already be HIPAA compliant and have some functionality at least for eVisits.
If not, select a reputable vendor. Reputable vendors offer secure and HIPAA-compliant technologies that protect patient privacy while offering good functionality and support.
2. Design an office set-up for doctors and other medical personnel
If doctors are consulting outside of the office, they need a workspace. This might include two computer monitors: one for the video consultation and one for the patient record. The set-up that works best for your practice will vary.
At a minimum, doctors need secure hardware that can handle video conferencing.
3. Train all medical personnel
Don’t skip this step. Training doctors and their supporting personnel is a crucial part of implementing telemedicine for chronic pain.
This includes helping everyone to become familiar with the telemedicine platform and process, including the rules for patient consent.
4. Design your workflow
Ask yourself these questions before you get started to design your typical workflow:
- What is the process for patient check-ins?
- How long will appointments last, and how many will be available?
- What conditions are eligible for telemedicine visits, and which require an office visit?
5. Don’t forget to document visits
Documenting visits for pain patients is crucial, especially if you are consulting with other doctors or prescribing pain medications. This includes asking for and receiving verbal consent to the visit from patients. It also includes notes on symptoms and changes to a patient’s condition or treatment plan
6. Be aware of prescription rules
It’s important to note that prescribing rules in telemedicine generally require that patients have a previous relationship with a doctor. This is an important protection in the fight against overprescribing opioids or other high-risk medications.
However, these rules may be relaxed during a health crisis, with telemedicine coverage expanded and in-state prescribing rules suspended. Always look to your professional regulatory board for guidance.
Connect with your patients
Once you have your plan to implement telemedicine for chronic pain in place, let your patients know about it. Contact patients with simple tutorials on scheduling and availability. Consider adding a “frequently asked questions page” to your medical practice site. Send out an email newsletter to inform them of your new services. You can learn more about communicating telehealth options to your patients here.
If you are a patient looking for pain management telehealth options in Arizona or a medical provider with questions about how to get started using telemedicine for pain management in your state, the Arizona Pain team may be able to help.