Telehealth became the go-to solution as quickly as the largest modern pandemic spread across the globe. Having mulled over the usability of telehealth for decades, medical practices embraced telehealth and virtual consulting as a viable way to reduce the risk of infection and continue providing services to patients. What those same medical practices were not expecting, was how telehealth changed the way they run their businesses for the better.
The benefits of telehealth suddenly became tangible as medical practices delivered care that was more patient-friendly (i.e. more convenient, less wasted time and resources, with fewer location-based constraints). But implementing telehealth hasn’t been without its own challenges. Like most things in life, using telehealth gets better with time.
To save you the time and burden, we have put together a list of 4 common Telehealth challenges and how you can overcome them.
1. Choosing the right telehealth technology
There are hundreds of telehealth solutions out there. From free consumer apps, like Zoom, Google and Whatsapp, to robust platforms integrated with EHR solutions – medical practices are spoilt for choice. But before you pick the cheapest, top-of-mind platform for your telehealth services, there are some basic questions you need to ask yourself.
- How easy is the platform to use? Don’t be distracted by sophisticated features, a system should first and foremost be easy to use, for both the patient and the doctor. Look for options that don’t prescribe a device type or operating system to use.
- What is your budget? Knowing how much you are willing to spend upfront, will streamline your options and allow you to look for value for money.
- Does it meet information security and privacy requirements? Consumer apps might seem like an obvious choice because of the minimal cost implication but can pose a risk to maintaining privacy of patient information. POPI and HIPAA compliance will also guide your search to find the right solution.
- Is it cloud-based? Being able to use the solution, regardless of your proximity to your practice is more important than ever. Solutions that require installation and IT support are costly and laborious to maintain.
- How robust do you need the platform to be? Practices that use telehealth solutions that are fully integrated with their EMR benefit from having patient information available during a virtual consult.
2. Creating patient awareness about the services you offer
Once you’ve implemented the right telehealth technology, you have to tell patients about it. Your ‘virtual practice’ is like opening a physical practice – you have to have some kind of communication strategy in place to inform patients and attract new ones.
Make a note of all the places you can be found on the web – directory listings, your social media pages, practice website, Google My Business, etc. Update that information to include telehealth services. Think about the ways you communicate with patients – automated emails, voicemails and bulk SMSes – and ensure you they are updated with your telehealth offering.
Along with patient awareness, it’s also a good opportunity to set patients’ expectations. Depending on your speciality, communicate the type of consultation that is best suited to telehealth, i.e. follow up appointments, remote monitoring, repeat prescriptions, counselling, etc. Include information about what they will and will not be financially responsible for. If patients know what services you can and can’t provide by telehealth, they are less likely to feel dissatisfied with the experience.
3. Delivering an optimal telehealth experience
As healthcare providers increase their investment in telehealth, the experience they deliver is playing a primary role in driving business outcomes. Here are a few areas to watch to ensure you’re making your interactions intimate, impactful and effective:
- Internet connection: Ensuring you have a fast and secure internet connection will go a long way to ensuring a good telehealth experience. That said, technology itself isn’t infallible and can be frustrating for both the patient and the doctor. Test your internet speed and upgrade your service if necessary.
- Digital office environment: One of the benefits of telehealth is being able to consult with patients from anywhere, but ‘anywhere’ usually has more distractions than your physical practice. If you are working from home, designate a room or space to carry out consults. Remove clutter, mute devices, and limit interruptions and background noise. You want to create an environment whereby you can focus on your patient and bring your bedside manner to the screen. Fortunately, most patients understand the challenges of working remotely and will readily forgive disruptions that happen during their consult, but try to minimise them none-the-less.
- Body language: Use verbal and nonverbal cues to show that you’re listening. Part of creating an optimal patient experience is to engage with them, as you would in person. Look directly at the camera, make eye contact, nod or repeat what your patient has said to you to reassure them that while you might not be in the same room, you are still present and empathetic.
4. Getting patient consent
Telehealth is by and large the new normal for medical practices, but it is still new. Be sure to communicate with your patients about how it works, how their privacy is protected and essentially what they are consenting to.
It is a good idea to include the following information on your (updated) consent form:
- Inform patients of their rights when receiving telehealth, including their right to stop or refuse treatment
- Outline the patient’s responsibilities when receiving telehealth treatment
- Explain the formal complaint process for addressing issues and concerns that result from a virtual consult
- Describe the potential benefits, limitations, and risks of telehealth
- Clearly stipulate what will happen when technology fails during a consultation and the contingency plan
A digitally enabled practice can build patient consent into their workflow. You can share the form electronically with your patients, track and store signed forms or go through the form with your patient and document their consent in their patient record. Consider all your options and choose the one that is right for your practice.
Offering telehealth services at your practice is a powerful way to attract and retain patients, create a new revenue stream and pivot your business to meet the demands of our new world. But you don’t have to do it all alone. Healthbridge has been partnering with private practices for over 20 years to help their businesses thrive. To get in touch to find out more about how to implement telehealth at your practice, click here.