What is the difference between a policy, procedure and a protocol? It is always a best practice to develop written policies, procedures and protocols for your telehealth operations. Here you will find helpful tips and examples to help you as you develop them for your practice.
Policies define your practices' position on what you plan to do, why you plan to do it and what laws, codes of ethics, guiding principles and/or values define and shape your policy decisions.
- As an example, the Federation of State Medical Boards has established a policy for The Appropriate Use of Telemedicine Technologies in the Practice of Medicine. This document was designed for State licensing boards, but is actually an excellent way to think about policies and procedures within an organization or practice.
Procedures describe how a policy will be put into action across all aspects of your program operations. Procedures define roles and responsibilities regarding things like who will do what, what forms will be used, what will need to be documented, and any limits to professional discretion. You will want to develop procedures regarding the scheduling of telehealth visits, paperwork and documentation requirements, when and how to make referrals for lab tests, etc.. For example, if a patient calls to cancel an appointment because they don't have transportation or perhaps are want to mitigate exposure to a viral outbreak, who will they be speaking with when they call? Will that person offer the patient the option of a telehealth visit? If your policy is to only schedule urgent care issues via telehealth and not routine wellness checks, then what will staff need to look for (e.g., appointment.visit type) or will they simply ask the patient to determine if the scheduled visit was urgent vs. non-urgent? In most cases, procedures help to shape the development of workflows.
- As an example, the American Telemedicine Association has developed Operating Procedures for Pediatric Telehealth.
Protocols define particular sets of operating procedures and go hand-in-hand with Developing Workflows. They are therefore frequently accompanied by workflow diagrams. Protocols define the order of operations and the specific tasks and expectations, serving as a formal agreement and commitment between two or more parties within and/or outside the organization.
- As an example, this draft Sample Telehealth Policies and Procedures (which includes protocols and workflow diagrams) was developed by an actual health care organization as they were scaling their operations in response to COVID-19. They have given us permission to strip the identifiers and to share!.