Optimizing patient experience and expectations in the telehealth conversation.
It’s the most simple economic predictor – an increase in demand requires an increase in supply. The demand for telehealth, or remotely offered visits, exploded this year as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation. It continues to change behaviors and mindsets around healthcare. In March 2020, when the virus started shutting down events, facilities and our normal way of life, healthcare facilities had to act fast. And while life saving heroes in hospitals and essential public health workers inspired us with their unwavering care of COVID patients, another important need surfaced. Patients with critical health needs started delaying care as their comfort in attending traditional in-person caregiver visits waned due to stress and anxiety heightened by the pandemic.
The sudden, real need for rapid delivery of remote care energized the existing telehealth models already in place. This new and improved model allowed for the continuation of primary care, speciality care and long term care services, keeping people safe while keeping healthcare, the fourth largest sector of the U.S. economy, afloat. But now, months later what is the future of telehealth? Are patients still interested and how are health systems responding?
What’s in a Name? Telehealth or Virtual Visits or E-Visits
What used to be known simply as telemedicine now encompasses a number of different care delivery models, all available to patients from the safety of their own home. Let’s take a look at some of the new and improved variations of telemedicine now under the umbrella of telehealth.
Virtual Visits: These visits allow face-to-face communication using technology available to large portions of the population via their tablet computers and smartphones. This option is easily adaptable for providers and patients alike since it doesn’t require much new equipment and most offices can work virtual visits into their existing scheduling models.
E-Visits: This type of virtual communication occurs over a facility’s patient portal through secure messaging direct from provider to patient. However, capabilities and navigability can vary depending on the patient portal. While that may have downsides for patients this method may be preferred by providers for ease of syncing with electronic medical records.
Virtual check-ins: These normally brief phone conversations are common for re-checks and a great way to make the most of patients’ time. When a face-to-face encounter or diagnosis isn’t needed, consider this type of patient engagement.
Mobile health or mHealth: Many vendors are offering HIPPA compliant text message services that allow providers to reach patients where they are, and with a communication method they’re already using. Follow best practices for texting communication, ensuring you’re not overwhelming patients with frequent or overly detailed messages.
Secure email: This can be handy for sharing medical records, patient education pieces or instructional videos across a secure channel, allowing more in-depth conversations than texting. As with any method of remote care, be sure to check with your compliance departments and patient advocates to ensure protocols and security are well defined and followed.
Wearables: Innovation in wearable technology was growing rapidly before the crisis. Technology will continue to advance as more providers manage their patients and monitor their vitals remotely. Using the many variations of telehealth we’ve discussed in combination with wearable data will give providers a bigger picture of a patient’s status and health.
An Ever-Evolving Healthcare Delivery System
We are still in the early stages of patient-wide telehealth acceptance and usage, however advancements continue to move in a positive direction improving patient and provider satisfaction, operational efficiencies and better care outcomes. Before the crisis, provider shortages in rural America were pushing healthcare facilities towards telehealth. Technology will now help those communities provide remote care even after the pandemic is over.
The ability to lower costs may be another added benefit of the quick adoption of remote care. And according to NRC data, telehealth is here to stay. Thirty-four percent of people surveyed in Q3 ‘20 said they have used it, up from only 11% at the end of 2019. As many in healthcare administration push for long term payment models and state and federal regulation, patients continue to express their desire for the new wave of healthcare.
How are you staying on top of telehealth and the digital expectations of the technology savvy patient?
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