A telehealth operator works remotely from home.

How Telehealth Employers Can Ensure Effective Communication with Remote Staff

Traditionally, remote work for healthcare positions was limited to medical billing, coding and transcription. However, since the pandemic began in 2020, hospitals and clinics have had to find ways for non-direct patient care personnel to work remotely and still maintain the same level of productivity, security, and commitment to quality patient care. 

Although the sudden shift to working remotely and working from home was initially disruptive, studies show that remote workers can actually be more efficient than before. Many remote workers even boast higher morale and job satisfaction. Yet if remote workers are managed poorly or made to use inefficient technology, then communication breaks down and productivity and morale take giant hits. 

To ensure effective communication with remote workers now and in the future, healthcare organizations of all sizes must have the right management mindset and the right technology in place.

Remote work boosts capacity

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights how remote work and communication technology can reduce disease transmission among patients and medical teams without reducing capacity. Telemedicine enables more physicians to care for patients from a safe distance, allowing quarantined workers with mild symptoms to keep working. Doctors can provide immediate consults from afar. Shifting call center operators to remote settings even increases a healthcare organization’s physical capacity by creating additional space for triage or other forms of patient care.

Remote work isn’t just for desk jobs

Remote work has many advantages for healthcare organizations, and not just for roles involving billing and administration. Pharmacists can review and enter online prescriptions. Nurses can provide after hours triage. Clinical case educators can train nurses on new care procedures without having to gather in the same place. Care teams, doctors, nurses and other non-clinical staff can check in with each other remotely, as long as their technology is HIPAA compliant and secure. 

Communication presents the biggest challenge to remote work

When teams aren’t in the same space physically, communication breakdowns are more likely to happen, especially if it isn’t clear whether a message has been received or how urgent it is. Important emails or messages can get lost among general updates. Tone of voice can be mistaken, especially when an urgent message is being conveyed. Personal devices used to access secure information can be compromised. Data is siloed as employees switch from one app to the next. When extra work must be done to keep records up to date between apps, errors are made. Productivity plummets along with morale.

Given the importance and difficulty of accurate, timely communication, how do you ensure that your teams communicate effectively while they’re remote?

1. Streamline communication devices and platforms

Communication technology must equip healthcare workers, not hinder them. Maximize every minute that physicians spend with their patients or communicating with the rest of the care team. Take the complication out of staying in touch by using a HIPAA-compliant secure messaging app that can be used on moble phones, laptops, tablets, and desktops. Allowing staff to use their own devices also simplifies the learning curve, resulting in faster adoption of the communication technology.

2. Make quick communication updates easy and intuitive 

Sometimes, long replies aren’t feasible, especially in the fast-paced world of medicine. Make it easy for your team to give each other the kind of immediate replies they need to be efficient and accurate. Look for platforms that offer customizable, quick replies that can be sent with just a few taps or clicks. 

3. Set clear “on-call” times
Automatically sync your communication platform with your staff’s on-call records. This will make it easier for your staff to know and respect each others’ on-call times. It will promote a healthy work-life balance and avoid the frustration of wondering who is available.

4. Build trust 
Create a culture that trusts each other to answer messages when they’re received. You can do this by selecting a platform that displays when messages have been delivered, if they have been read, and what their urgency level is. Don’t contribute to alarm fatigue by inundating your employees with irrelevant or non-urgent messages.

5. Integrate with electronic health records (EHR) to reduce data entry 
Reducing the number of places data needs to be entered improves efficiency and accuracy. Your communication platform should sync with your organization’s EHR. This way, physicians can check lab results from another location, pharmacists can order prescriptions remotely, and surgeons can verify schedules ahead of time. 

6. Insist on security and HIPAA compliance
While some HIPAA rules related to telehealth were relaxed in 2020, they have since tightened back up. Instead of requiring your staff to take home additional secure devices, you can choose a platform that can run securely on their personal devices. Be sure to choose a platform that offers end-to-end encryption of all messages and can be locked remotely in case it is lost or compromised. 

7. Move to the cloud
An on-premise only solution will limit your ability to shift workers to remote settings. Your staff should be able to securely access the data they need wherever they are. Storing information on the cloud will also reduce the need for on-site server maintenance. Your care teams can have synchronous, secure access to their patients’ data, wherever they are.

The ideal remote workers are self-starters who can focus on work despite the distractions that are inherent in working off-site. And the ideal remote managers are those who understand how to intentionally foster connection and communication without micromanaging. Invest in tech that is flexible enough to work with with your staff and support your team’s unique capabilities and needs.