By Ryan Bullock, COO of Aeroflow Healthcare
A repetitive problem within the healthcare industry in the U.S. is that groups of disadvantaged and oppressed people are at a larger risk of receiving poor healthcare, which can be detrimental to their overall health. A study recently found that while 70% of health plans had a health equity plan this past year, barriers to care are still prominent when it comes to communication between providers and patients.
Throughout 2021, there were major innovations in technology to keep up with changing demands especially due to the pandemic. Advancements in technology are important in every industry, yet it seemed many patients did not understand how to use telecommunications to interact with their providers.
Healthcare providers must know how to guide their patients throughout the virtual healthcare experience. This can include asking patients what their wants and needs are in regards to their care. Additionally, making the patient feel comfortable with virtual platforms is essential. Be willing to build a trusted relationship in order to have total comfort when using the technology to communicate.
Be prepared for telehealth to continue evolving
Make sure you test your equipment beforehand and have a private location for the appointment. Even if
all is going well with your primary technology, have a backup plan with your patient, such as a phone
number or email address that you can use to contact them should any difficulties arise. You can also consider sending a reminder to your patient prior to the appointment on how to appropriately prepare for the visit, which may include a how-to-guide of signing on, an emergency number in case of difficulties, and more.
Ensure the meeting is a two-way street of communication and do not solely lecture. Ask them how they prefer to receive information and how they would like the interaction to go. Do they want a summary of the visit sent post-appointment? Are they comfortable taking their own notes? Camera on or off? Practice active listening to let them know you are understanding their needs during the appointment. Repeat what they say, and ask them if you are comprehending their feelings accurately, then suggest treatment.
Be aware of disadvantaged groups
There are numerous groups of people that are going to have trouble accessing or adapting to new innovations within the healthcare industry. Groups at a disadvantage may include:
- Elderly age group; they may have difficulties with the tech advancements itself, or concerns that their private health information is being shared via the internet. Elderly people are less trusting of technology in relation to their privacy and security.
- Low income & rural residents; in general their access to technology may be limited and inconsistent compared to other populations. If they can only access public technology, such as using a computer in a library, they may not feel comfortable speaking about their ailments if they think others may be able to hear them.
- Non-English speakers; If English is not their first language, it will likely be extremely difficult for them to understand how to communicate or use the technology. It is imperative that providers understand the importance of translating and providing instructions in multiple languages for their potential patients.
Shifting demands among patients; and how technology can help
Since the start of the pandemic, a consistent theme among patients has been convenience. Many prefer telehealth visits and other virtual care, as it provides less time, energy and cost than in-person care. As this trend continues in 2022, providers and agents must not only ensure their virtual abilities are updated, but also that all demographics they serve have access to this technology and understand how to properly utilize it to manage their care.
Efficiency and effectiveness are also at the core of success in telehealth. If the patient feels they are not receiving accurate and professional care, they will not feel comfortable speaking about their medical history, symptoms, etc. with the provider or health insurance agent virtually. Additionally, be prepared for the meeting by understanding the reason for their appointment and having their files on hand in case you need to reference them. Patients will not appreciate you “wasting” their time by trying to sift through files or asking them questions they think you should already know. Be thorough during the meeting, yet be cautious you are not spending unnecessary time with conversations you could have prepared for.
There are numerous advantages to telehealth, and once providers understand how to guide their patients through the virtual experience, inequities will decrease. Be mindful of individual needs and groups that may need extra help because there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to someone’s health plan.