Even though virtual healthcare has been possible for over a decade, the technology officially became an integral part of the care process as a direct result of COVID-19. Telemedicine can offer on-demand medical attention to patients anytime and anywhere, but it’s essential for virtual care to be easily accessible to anyone who needs it. True patient-focused telehealth addresses patient learning curves, implementation issues, and insurance limitations, but it also addresses primary care physician burnout and workflow concerns.
In today’s medical climate, telemedicine and Value-Based Care (VBC) go hand-in-hand. VBC models allow primary care providers to decrease hospitalizations and the overall cost of care, but this only works through a high-touch approach. With the logistical issues and physician overscheduling that plagues most primary care practices, patient-first telehealth can offload pressure if approached correctly.
Patient Technological Needs
Virtual technology might come naturally to younger patients, but for seniors or patients with cognitive disabilities, using technology can pose challenges. For these patients, it’s helpful to assign a live assistant who can spend a few minutes addressing the technology component. Assistants can ensure a patient’s video and microphone are working properly, monitor the internet connection, and answer questions related to the appointment. When a member of the medical staff can see the patient’s device beforehand, it leads to a better patient experience.
Another way to address technology challenges is to create a one-pager on the “do’s and don’ts” of telehealth. These sheets detail how to use the technology and help patients understand the purpose of their visit. It’s not uncommon for patients, especially those with multiple doctors, to lose track of which doctor they’re talking to. For this reason, it’s also helpful to have patients draft a list of questions to address with their provider. When patients have questions already mapped out, virtual visits become more seamless.
Implementation and Interoperability
Implementation needs to be as easy as possible for both patients and providers alike, and one of the most efficient ways to achieve this is to eliminate all app downloads. Not all patients have systems that can download apps, so for best results providers should send a web link for a virtual consultation. Patients can simply click the link to access their provider, and clinics can capture the patient data and push it back into their Electronic Medical Record (EMR). This not only solves usability issues, but it also addresses the need for workflow interoperability.
Interoperability has been gaining traction in the medical community over the last several years, but some virtual health solutions have been slow to address it. Several practices that lacked telehealth before COVID-19 enacted regular virtual meeting rooms to quickly address demand, but these tools can’t directly transfer patient data to other clinical systems. When prioritizing a patient-first approach, interoperability becomes paramount. Patients don’t want to repeat the same information to five different staff members just as much as providers don’t want to waste time on data entry.
Accessibility is always a difficult topic when it comes to healthcare, but it’s an essential component of high-quality patient care. Innovation keeps healthcare moving forward, but it’s a futile effort if patients can’t access it—especially during a global pandemic. A Gallup study published in late April showed that nearly 15% of Americans aren’t seeking essential coronavirus care over fear of cost, and healthcare costs have been rising substantially over the last several years.
Fortunately, telemedicine is beginning to offer a low-cost solution for affordable primary care. Workplaces are starting to add virtual care to its benefits package—even for employees who don’t have an insurance plan, and patients can talk to their providers during their off-hours. This prevents patients from neglecting healthcare because they’re unable to take paid time off work.
By providing patients with a user-friendly, efficient, and affordable telehealth experience, physicians can retain their patients, allow them to easy receive care, and reduce costs by limiting unnecessary in-person or emergency room visits. Telemedicine is here to stay, and clinics that perfect the virtual patient experience will experience better patient outcomes.