Connected health usage spiked during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, as physicians adopted new digital tools to connect with patients when in-person visits were limited or completely unavailable. The good news is that, even before the pandemic, most patients were happy with their telehealth experiences: 84% were able to fully resolve their health concerns through telehealth. Additionally, nearly three-quarters experienced no problems during their digital engagement.
Prior to the pandemic, most people probably hadn’t even heard of telehealth, and less than 20% had used it. But, a year into the pandemic, more than 60% of Americans had experienced telehealth. Patients’ perception of telehealth has also changed. A year ago, the majority of people questioned its effectiveness, while now, nearly 90% want to continue using it.
Though it was forced into mainstream healthcare due to unprecedented circumstances, telehealth lived up to the expectations many had for its success. Still, there are those whose experiences weren’t perfect, which means there is still work to be done.
Part of it includes ensuring physicians and staff are doing the right things when using digital care models. But, the patient is half of the equation and they, too, have a learning curve to experience. Despite living in a digital-first world, healthcare providers shouldn’t expect patients to be able to simply pick up a device and have an ideal experience. Healthcare is still a process and patients should be educated, so they and their physicians have the best and most efficient experience possible.
As a provider, it makes sense to have a telehealth onboarding process for new telehealth patients. it can help them have more positive experiences, increase the effectiveness of their sessions, and promote the value of connected health so patients are more inclined to see it as a viable alternative to traditional in-person visits.
Just as physicians should be ready for their appointments, patients can help facilitate effective telehealth visits by being prepared. Encourage them to have a list of questions or concerns to discuss. It will help avoid having to make additional calls or scheduling new appointments. Keeping track of any symptoms (their nature, timing, duration, etc.) can help their doctors diagnose conditions and prescribe treatment. Photos of obvious physical symptoms can often be sent through secure patient portals or other systems and can help physicians more efficiently address concerns and understand progression of visible symptoms, such as swelling or a rash.
Be Ready to Help
Just as they would during an in-person visit, physicians may ask patients to perform certain movements or actions to help diagnose conditions or evaluate general health. During a virtual visit, patients may need to be a little more descriptive about certain things, such as whether a lump on their arm soft or firm. Physicians may also ask patients to take photos or video clips and send them through their secure portal or service. Patients should know how to take and send those images.
Include Family Members
Depending on the nature of the visit, patients may want to consider having a family member or other trusted individual present. For instance, if a patient has a back rash, it may be difficult to show that to a physician without a family member or other trusted person to position the camera, especially when using a phone or tablet. The same goes for treatment or follow-ups. It may be helpful for family members to be present if they will be involved with additional care measures.
Choosing an Appropriate Setting
During in-person visits, patients are in private rooms. They should find similar settings at home or work or wherever they are for their virtual visit, so they are comfortable throughout the discussion, including situations where they may have to show various body parts that are relevant to the healthcare discussion. Good lighting is also important so doctors can get a good view of whatever they need to see.
Have the Right Tools Available
Many virtual sessions take place directly on the web using a compliant and secure web-based service. Others may use a healthcare-specific app. Providers should make sure patients know how their service works and what the minimum technology requirements are, including bandwidth needs and browser or app versions. It’s never a bad idea to remind them to make sure their security software is up to date. If other healthcare devices are needed, such as a thermometer, blood pressure cuff, glucometer, or others, advise patients to have them handy.
Understand the Entire Process
In order to facilitate a smooth virtual visit, make sure you provide patients all the details they will need. What happens when they log in? Will they be put into a waiting room and have forms to fill out? If so, how early should they log in, and when should they expect to actually connect with their doctor? If there are forms or other information they need to provide in advance, make sure they are aware and have the necessary information to do that. You may even want to have a staff member have a training session with first-time telehealth patients to walk through the process and make sure they are able to use the technology. Make sure patients have registered for your patient portal to make information exchange and scheduling easier.
Virtual vs. In-person
Telehealth is a great option for many situations. But patients should be aware that in some cases, an in-person visit is more appropriate or even necessary. If they’re unsure, patients should consult their providers to determine if an in-person or virtual visit is best. The best options could include an in-person visit with follow-ups via telehealth, or even the use of remote patient monitoring tools for tracking health data, progress, and response to treatment.
Based on both patient and physician feedback, it’s clear that telehealth is here to stay. To what extent providers are able to drive more patients to use it on a regular basis so both parties can enjoy the benefits will likely depend on their experiences. Just as they do with other procedures, healthcare providers should have an FAQ page or Tips for First-time Users document or something similar – as well as staff who are able to assist patients as needed. With any new technology, there are usually some details that need to be worked out but preparing patients in advance can help increase their satisfaction with and affinity towards not only virtual visits, but any connected health solutions providers may introduce.
To learn more about how to implement an effective connected health technologies, connect with us here.