How to Introduce Patients to Telemedicine
As telemedicine becomes mainstream, patients are embracing the convenience of in-home healthcare. Still, for many patients who have experienced a lifetime of traditional face-to-face medical care, telemedicine is foreign territory. According to J.D. Power's 2020 U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study, although patient satisfaction has surged, many potential users report barriers to accessing telehealth services.
If you're just starting to grow this side of your practice, following are a few ways you can introduce patients to telemedicine and help them overcome common barriers.
When Does Telehealth Work Best?
Research supports the use and effectiveness of telehealth for most types of patient care, but it's more appropriate and effective for some patients than others. The following factors, for example, can predispose some patients to greater success and satisfaction when using telemedicine:
- Trust and comfort with technology
- Access to proper technology and internet speed
- Training with the platform
- Familiarity with their healthcare staff
- Motivation and engagement
- Support and involvement from family
- Age—very young patients or those older than 80 may not always be ideal candidates
Patients with chronic but stable health conditions are often a good fit. The idea of receiving in-home healthcare for routine follow-up care can be appealing, as it saves patients considerable time. Once your patients are comfortable with the technology and process, telehealth appointments will be fast, efficient, and profitable for your practice.
It's also smart to screen for patients who may not be well served by telemedicine services. Aside from those who require an in-person exam, telemedicine may not work well for geriatric patients who need assistance from a third person who does not live in their home. A telemedicine program may also face challenges if patients have social problems, hearing or vision challenges, or cognitive impairment.
Other common barriers to patients using telehealth include:
- Lack of phone, computer, or internet access
- Low communication skills
- An inherent resistance to telehealth or preference for face-to-face office visits.
Educating Patients About Telehealth
While the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced telemedicine to many people, not all patients have experienced a virtual medical appointment firsthand. Education remains vital, and that starts with telling patients telemedicine is an option that's available.
You can discuss telemedicine benefits with in-office patients; mention telehealth appointments in patient emails or mailings, or in new patient welcome packets; and feature telehealth on your website and social media pages.
- The ease of scheduling and appointment availability
- Streamlined appointment follow-ups
- The convenience of in-home healthcare
- Less time commitment due to not having to travel or wait in the doctor’s office
- Lower cost
- Reduced exposure to sick patients.
It can also be helpful to reassure patients about some common concerns about telemedicine:
- Insurance coverage for telemedicine appointments.
- Privacy of their health information.
If patients fear their insurance provider won't cover their visit or that their personal healthcare information can be breached, they will be reluctant to engage in telemedicine.
Finally, support and telephone staff, who connect with patients scheduling appointments, play an important role in informing patients about telemedicine benefits and platform basics.
Helping Patients Navigate Telehealth Technology
Many patients expect having to use unfamiliar technology, and that can be a significant barrier to their choosing telemedicine. Providing dedicated staff to help patients access the platform and troubleshoot technology mishaps will ease the transition and ensure a smoother telemedicine experience. It can also be reassuring for patients to hear that telehealth technology is still new to most people, and that it's normal to need to take some time to learn how to use the systems. There's no need for patients to feel embarrassed or “technology-impaired" if they run into problems connecting or if they experience issues during their virtual in-home healthcare visit.
In addition, a step-by-step cheat sheet (and a video tutorial) will be helpful to even the most tech-savvy patients. Include information on:
- What equipment they'll need for a telehealth visit, such as a microphone, webcam, and high-speed internet access
- How to access the platform
- What to expect in a telehealth visit
- How to access their post-visit plan or information.
As with any new technology, growing pains are expected. But the payoff can be significant because implementing a well-run telemedicine program will increase patient satisfaction as well as your bottom line.The faster you can get your patients comfortable with telemedicine, the sooner both parties will enjoy the benefits of this method of in-home healthcare delivery.