The tagline for the Functional Forum when it first launched in 2014 was “Accelerating the Evolution of Medicine.” We saw that evolution occurring in a number of ways, from conventional Western medicine to functional medicine, from paper-based practices to digitally savvy and from one-on-one to team and group-based care.

While no one could have predicted the sweeping effects of COVID-19, in a sense, we’ve been working to prepare practitioners for a situation like social distancing and self-isolating for our entire existence. In fact, nothing has accelerated the evolution of medicine quicker than this viral pandemic.

Still, it’s alarming to see how many practitioners aren’t prepared for a virtual practice, who thought about starting one but put it on the back burner, who are now concerned about keeping their doors open in this uncertain and challenging time.

But there is hope. Evolving to a virtual practice is easier now than it has ever been, and here’s a step-by-step guide to running a super-low-overhead virtual practice, and getting started quickly. Below are the four main areas to consider.

  1. Connecting with patients
    Practitioners use different virtual methods to connect with patients, and different EMR systems have varying capabilities regarding scheduling and telemedicine. Just this week, the government announced immediate limited waivers of certain HIPAA privacy provisions to help improve patient care during the growing COVID-19 pandemic. It’s now OK for practitioners to offer telehealth services through certain applications, like FaceTime, Google Hangouts or Skype, that allow for video chats. Just be aware that certain public-facing platforms, like Facebook Live, are not included in the provision, and you’ll need to be sure that each patient call is individual. Zoom is very popular with practitioners in our Practice Accelerator.
  2. Booking appointments
    You need a way to not only speak to patients, but to book appointments virtually. The vast majority of appointments are booked outside office hours. That’s why we recommend an online scheduler, like Acuity or even Zoom, to keep track of patient appointments and video chats. Some EMRs include appointment booking and video, too, like Practice Better or ChARM.
  3. Supplements
    If patients can’t come into your practice to get their supplements, you need an online supplement dispensary. We recommend Fullscript because the platform is easy to use for both practitioner and patient, and getting your online dispensary set up is a breeze. They also carry all the professional dietary supplement brands you’ll need. Check out their website to learn more and create an account.
  4. Laboratory testing
    With more and more states making it harder and harder to move around, basic lab testing is becoming a little trickier. The vast majority of decisions in medicine are made off the back off lab testing. If you have been used to sending people to Quest or LabCorp, it might not be possible or advisable considering the density of people showing up in this next phase. We recommend using consumer-facing platforms for the time being, like Everlywell, where patients can get basic lab panels and then review them with you on your video chats. As of yesterday, Everlywell now also has a consumer COVID-19 test. Many of the functional medicine testing companies offer test kits that can be mailed to patients.
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What are some ways you’re adjusting your practice model to make it work virtually? How are you engaging patients and building social solidarity during this time of physical distancing? We would love to hear from you, feel free to post questions in our practitioner Facebook group.