Breaking Down Remote Provider Silos

Written by Shelley Sellinger, M.D. Originally posted on Becker’s Hospital Review

There is little debate that telemedicine has carved out a powerful niche in health care. Rapid growth of remote care models in recent years underscores the opportunity for both providers and patients alike. Yet, as health care organizations continue to adopt telemedicine models, many find that one all-important strategy is often overlooked: remote provider engagement.

It’s not a surprising revelation. While many providers find the telemedicine career path attractive because of the flexible scheduling options or ability to work remotely, they are often unprepared for the disconnected nature of the work and can be left feeling like they’re in a vacuum. That’s why it’s essential for organizations to consider how they can create unified, interconnected teams across geographies to support remote provider needs, and in turn, optimal care delivery.

Consider, for instance, the experience of my organization, InSight Telepsychiatry, which provides on-demand, scheduled and direct-to-consumer telepsychiatry services. With our providers spread remotely across the nation and even the world, InSight took note of the potential engagement struggles we as remote staff could experience.

To address this challenge head-on, InSight developed a comprehensive remote provider engagement strategy designed and led by a team of remote providers. Through the establishment of a provider engagement committee, we are now able to bring our offsite teams together in much the same way we connect with patients—virtually—to ensure providers feel connected and receive the support they need.

Considerations for Remote Provider Engagement
Like any provider community, telepsychiatry providers need access to clinical growth opportunities, peer collaboration and an understanding of priorities to feel part of the comprehensive provider team. The provider engagement committee serves as a critical resource for delivering clinical feedback, providing professional development opportunities, establishing a shared vision with managers and giving providers a voice in the organization.

As any worthwhile initiative, remote provider engagement programs require organizational resources from both a time and direct cost perspective. Consider administrative time that must be allocated for clinical supervision and staff development activities that may require monetary investment. Ultimately, a successful remote workforce model requires traditional management practices to be adapted to ensure remote providers feel engaged and part of a team. Designing a thorough program where a remote team has both professional development and social needs met is a crucial piece.

Advancing Engagement Strategies
As a remote provider who helped design and lead charge of our engagement committee at InSight, it’s important to remember that thoughtful program design is key. Through a number of strategic initiatives, we’ve been able to build an effective and sustainable program that addresses remote provider challenges head on while also meeting our unique needs as a company. Videoconferencing technology is used administratively to connect remote providers and team members, creating opportunities to collaborate, share feedback or ask questions when facing a challenging or new situation. Other key initiatives as part of our engagement program include the following.

Mentoring programs
Especially for new telepsychiatry providers, mentoring programs provide an effective way to onboard providers to organizational clinical processes and best practices for success. During the onboarding process, it’s important to have the opportunity to connect with someone who is not an administrator, as that can be intimidating at times. Connecting with another provider allows a peer relationship to form and can increase the comfort level of the new provider. Mentors connect with mentees by video or phone and are available for collaboration through other means as needed.

Clinical check-ins
Regularly scheduled clinical check-ins allow medical directors and telepsychiatry providers to discuss their work, ask questions or voice concerns. Telepsychiatry providers review performance and go through patient charts in detail at these meetings as well as connect with remote providers on a more personal level. Health care organizations can further extend clinical check-in strategies to include group sessions, allowing collaboration with multiple telepsychiatry providers to discuss best practices, difficult cases, common issues and any other topics that may arise. Group collaboration can also serve as a platform to support clinical peer review where providers and their colleagues review patient charts in compliance with industry standards.

Provider engagement newsletters
Monthly or bi-monthly newsletters are a great way to keep remote providers updated on organizational happenings, new initiatives or changes to care delivery processes and procedures. In addition, these forums can provide a platform for educating on new evidence and research.

Provider town halls 
The town hall model is typically used for high-level discussions regarding organizational updates and announcements to keep remote providers engaged with what’s happening on a macro level. The opportunity for providers and the administrative team to come together is imperative, and the town hall model allows providers to interact with one another and address questions or concerns to the administrative team.

These sessions might be held quarterly, bi-annually or once a year depending on resources and needs, allowing clinical leadership and operations managers to discuss current focus areas for telepsychiatry, changes in strategy or long-term plans. Additionally, this type of forum makes it possible for providers to interact with one another as a group. This allows a chance for providers to meet those who may be located in the same state or work with a similar facility which could then lead to a new peer relationship.

Continuing medical education
Critical to professional development, remote providers need access to continuing medical education opportunities to maintain their licensure. Our organization offers the opportunity to advance learning and earn credits through remote programs similar to providers working in a group setting.

Provider Engagement for Sustainable Telemedicine Models
Growth across the telemedicine field shows no sign of slowing. As the influence of these forward-looking models increases, the need for remote provider engagement strategies cannot be overlooked.

Remote provider organizations can follow suit and take a similar approach by applying this model and tailoring to their specific needs to keep provider teams from becoming disconnected and disengaged. Ultimately, it comes down to ensuring remote providers have the resources they need to succeed and giving them a voice in the organization.

About the author
Shelley Sellinger MD, ABPN is a board-certified psychiatrist from New York specializing in adult services, including anxiety and depression, substance use and addiction, trauma and abuse, and psychopharmacology. Dr. Sellinger has devoted her career to expanding access to behavioral health care. She joined InSight Telepsychiatry to continue that mission and assist patients nationwide.