Telemedicine has proved its value amidst the pandemic, and consumers have grown to appreciate that model of care delivery. According to McKinsey, in June 2021, the use of telemedicine consultations stabilized at a rate of 40 times higher than its pre-pandemic baseline. So does it mean that providers that have telemedicine in their service box can keep calm and reap the service benefits? Not really. Though telemedicine has gained recognition, some hindrances to a good consumer experience have remained. Now as the pandemic has loosened its grip, it’s time to solve them.
Telehealth success metrics
In October 2020, JD Power published their findings concerning the telehealth satisfaction rate. The service scored 860 points of the 1000 points possible. At the same time, the survey revealed that the score was not that high among vulnerable patient populations. In that patient group, the overall telehealth ranking scored only 743 points. As we can see, those who need medical assistance most are not quite content with telemedicine services.
Routes for improvement
Improving telemedicine experience doesn’t require extensive investments in technologies. It’s rather about addressing the needs of vulnerable patient groups via telemedicine apps in a better way. There are several ways to do so.
Amidst the pandemic, chronic-condition patients have often complained about the lack of interpersonal communication. Confined to their homes, they were deprived of regular visits to their providers’ premises, and telehealth consultations often lacked personal touch. Luckily, there’s a way to change the situation. Experts from the Stanford School of Medicine prepared a handy guide allowing clinicians to transform an e-consultation into a meaningful doctor-patient dialogue.
The guide offers five logical steps:
- Preparation. First of all, the doctor needs to take a short break before each consultation to reset. Then they may consult the upcoming patient’s chart to familiarize themselves with the patient’s history and life circumstances. That information may make a good start for building trust.
- Engaged listening. The doctor need to exhibit engaged body language to cement the trust. The experts recommend looking directly into the camera periodically to maintain eye contact and sit within the camera frame. It’s also vital to convey the doctor is listening with nodding and changing facial expressions accordingly.
- Visit agenda. The doctor needs to establish the visit agenda reflecting the patient’s priorities and expectations from the visit. After the visit, it may be also helpful to send some educational materials or an auto-generated visit summary to help the patient stay well-informed to manage their health.
- The patient’s story in focus. The doctor needs to examine the patient’s home environment. During the visit, they may meet their social support such as family members and assess their housing stability, food and medication security, and family situation. In case some issues come to light, the doctor may offer assistance — food or medicine delivery options, referrals to other specialists, and more.
- Emotional aspect. The clinician needs to monitor the patient’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language, and offer relevant acknowledgment of the detected emotions. The main point is to convey that the doctor is there for the patient and they can trust their clinician.
With those clearly articulated steps, clinicians may turn e-visits via telemedicine solutions into personalized consultations fully mimicking an in-office visit. This creates the effect of copresence and helps patients overcome the feeling of loneliness and abandonment they may experience in these turbulent times.
Copresence is not the only way to improve the telemedicine experience. Providers may enhance their offer delivering therapies via telemedicine apps. This approach is suitable for managing anxiety and depression, diverse musculoskeletal conditions, pain, and rehabilitation after an injury. What’s more, such a service allows healthcare practitioners to offer group therapy as well.
As for the validity of replacing in-person visits with e-consultations, the efficacy differs. While online appointments are effective for managing anxiety and depression, in-office consultations remain more productive for addressing eating disorders, trauma, and addictions.
Online physiotherapy has proved useful as well. According to a 2021 study of telemedicine experience among Australian physiotherapists and patients, both parties are highly positive about the new care delivery model. At the same time, clinicians and patients named a lack of physical touch a hurdle to a thorough health state assessment, which may affect patient outcomes.
Even though telemedicine is used widely and extensively, there’s a fly in the ointment. Isolated from their care setting, vulnerable patient populations may feel lonely and depressed. As a result, they report a lack of personal touch and engagement during e-consultations.
Luckily, there are some ways to improve the patient experience. First of all, clinicians may create a copresence effect following the five-step guide to telemedicine mentioned above. Providers may also extend their services by adding a therapeutic component to their telemedicine offer.
The latter may help reconsider telemedicine and its role. It’s not a temporary solution induced by the present healthcare crisis but a sustainable alternative care delivery model, which allows every patient to access care safely.
Inga Shugalo is a Healthcare Industry Analyst at Itransition, a custom software development company headquartered in Denver, Colorado. She focuses on Healthcare IT, highlighting the industry challenges and technology solutions that tackle them. Inga’s articles explore diagnostic potential of healthcare IoT, opportunities of precision medicine, robotics and VR in healthcare and more.