Virtual House Calls: Video Conferencing for Medical Professionals

Virtual Doctor Visits: Video Conferencing How-To for Medical Professionals

Since the coronavirus pandemic, many medical offices and healthcare providers are moving to video conferencing as a way to have virtual doctor visits with patients when an in-person exam is not explicitly required. If you would like to offer virtual house calls (or improve upon them), read on.

What are Virtual Doctor Visits?

Virtual doctor visits (or virtual house calls) are appointments between a healthcare provider and a patient (or client) that happen over a video conferencing platform. Also known as virtual checkups, virtual doctor visits are a great way to serve your patients because they don’t have to worry about driving to the office and possibly exposing themselves to coronavirus or other illness.

The patient can talk to you at ease from the comfort of their own homes. You, as the provider, may also find it easier to schedule and meet with clients.

Who Can Benefit from Virtual Doctor Visits?

The patients can obviously benefit from virtual house calls, but so can a wide variety of healthcare practitioners.

Virtual house calls can be used by traditional Western medical doctors and nurse practitioners, as well as alternative and holistic health practitioners such as naturopaths, integrative or functional medicine doctors, TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctors, Ayurvedic Doctors and Practitioners, health and wellness coaches, certified herbalists, and more. Even dentists may benefit from virtual house calls for special or extenuating circumstances.

If you are a doctor in an HMO or managed healthcare services organization, it’s likely they have video conferencing set up already – if they don’t, or they need a better solution, have them contact us to get it going!

For independent doctor’s offices and alternative medical establishments, having a professional video conferencing solution can be a huge boon to your business.

Video conferencing does have drawbacks. For example, while practitioners of Eastern medical systems such as TCM and Ayurveda can’t use certain diagnostic processes via video (like pulse reading), patient intakes as well as traditional tongue diagnosis are still very doable. You can’t do acupuncture over a video, but you can direct your client on which points to do self-acupressure.

Before Getting Started: Know How HIPAA Privacy Laws Apply to Video Conferencing

As a healthcare professional, you are probably already well-aware of HIPAA regulations that protect patient privacy. Did you know these privacy rules also apply to video conferencing?

This is very important because web security and privacy must be considered when working with patients and clients virtually.

Do You Need HIPAA Compliance? Yes.

In many cases, your client may not know or care whether your video conferencing app is “HIPAA compliant.” They may have no clue what HIPAA is or that they have certain privacy rights. But you don’t want to take any chances.

It is true that not all “healthcare providers” are required to follow HIPAA. If you do not need to have a license to practice, then you are not bound by HIPAA. This would include herbalists, Ayurvedic Practitioners, or health and wellness coaches. (TCM practitioners and acupuncturists are typically licensed, on the other hand.)

That said, even if you aren’t required to follow HIPAA, do it anyway as it really is “best practices.” Additionally, fields like Ayurveda may be licensed in the future (this is being worked on by many Ayurveda associations) so get into the HIPAA habit now. It establishes you as a healthcare professional and not just a hobbyist.

Good HIPAA compliance habits include secure record-keeping, and making sure you do not record and save your virtual house calls.

What Makes a Video Conferencing Solution HIPAA-Compliant?

In order to safely use a video conferencing solution, it must be HIPAA compliant. This means it has to offer a certain level of encryption (so the video packets can’t be “stolen” and decoded easily by hackers). The video conferencing system also needs some type of access control and it should not allow users to remain logged in indefinitely.

Additionally, companies that are providing HIPAA-compliant video conferencing software must sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) that outlines its association with customers along with service level agreements and other applicable information. This rule is in place to secure “Protected Health Information (PHI).”

Many messaging apps like Facebook Messenger do not offer HIPAA compliance. They may not offer the high-level of encryption. Facebook, in particular, will not sign a BAA with their vast audience of members, so Messenger is not HIPAA compliant and should not be used for health consultations.

Microsoft Teams is HIPAA-compliant, provided the HIPAA-covered entity is able to establish a business associate agreement with Microsoft (something Microsoft is reportedly willing to do). Zoom also claims to be HIPAA compliant, but it is not designed as a medical video conferencing solution and does not integrate with an Electronic Health Records (EHR) system. The other problem with Zoom is that it may not be perceived as private and secure precisely due to being so widely used for non-healthcare meetings.

The basic version of Skype is not HIPAA-compliant, but the upgraded Skype for Business is compliant. Unfortunately, Microsoft is retiring Skype for Business in July 2021, and users are encouraged to switch to Microsoft Teams as soon as possible.

Beyond these well-known solutions, there are many enterprise-level solutions that can make your healthcare business look professional while maintaining compliance. Not only will they offer the web security you need, but they may be integrated with secure EHR systems and/or calendar apps to make scheduling convenient.

Whether you are an established medical practice or a start-up holistic healthcare practitioner, you may benefit from CDS Office Technologies’ expert advice and solutions with secure video conferencing.

Does your business need help with virtual house calls? CDS Office Technologies has the expertise. Contact us today for a custom solution with HIPAA-compliant video conferencing.