By Brian Powers
By now, the healthcare industry has generally accepted that the surge in demand for telemedicine brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is here to stay in some capacity. What began as a frantic dash to get telemedicine platforms up and running has turned into a longer-term conversation about permanently offering patients more convenient ways to receive care.
But consumer data shows that telemedicine still has a long way to go in living up to patients’ expectations. In a 2018 study, less than half of patients who had partaken in virtual visits reported a shorter wait time and only a third felt satisfied with the information they had received. To meet customers’ expectations, providers will need to turn to innovative digital solutions to overhaul every step of the healthcare process – and none of it will be possible without digital agreements.
Understanding Consumer Expectations of Telemedicine
The healthcare industry faces an uphill battle as it enters a new digital era. Consumers who engage in telemedicine have been conditioned by years of interaction with digital platforms like eCommerce, an industry in which speed and convenience are king. Online retailers have raised the bar so high that users are willing to abandon a website after waiting just 2.7 seconds for a page to load; studies have shown that conversions drop seven percent for every 100 milliseconds past this. Patients are likely to have similar expectations even if it’s their first time accessing a telemedicine platform.
There’s also an expectation that digital platforms will provide the same seamless experience across multiple devices. Consumers now use their smartphones to perform the same functions that they did on their computer less than a decade ago, and some experts predict that three-quarters of adults will only access the internet from a mobile device by 2025. Not only do telemedicine platforms need to be fast and responsive on the web, they must also support full functionality for smartphone users.
Why Providers Need Digital Agreements
Unfortunately, these core consumer demands are incongruous with traditional healthcare agreements. Providers have a legal obligation to collect signed agreements from all patients, no matter how or where the visit takes place. During in-office appointments, patients typically fill out multiple pages of forms on a clipboard and hand them into reception. In the rush to go digital, many providers have simply begun emailing these forms to patients and asking them to fill them out at home, sign and return them.
This is a far cry from the seamless process that digital consumers expect. Some may grow frustrated with the process and abandon telemedicine entirely. Even if patients do manage to jump through all the hoops, healthcare workers on the other end face the cumbersome job of distributing, collecting and managing agreements. The extra strain on an already overloaded workforce can quickly place a bottleneck on the entire telemedicine system. Worse yet, this piecemeal method lacks the organization required to ensure that all agreements have been properly signed and could open practices up to litigation.
With digital agreements, healthcare providers can create and distribute forms on-demand in just a few clicks – and just as easily check to make sure a patient has completed theirs before a telemedicine appointment. On the consumer side, patients only need to enter their information once, read and accept agreements. The entire process takes no more than a few minutes from start to finish and can be completed from any device without needing to sign, scan or print physical forms.
Healthcare Agreements That Are Eligible for Digital Transformation
Providers may worry about the potential legal implications of switching over to digital agreements. The good news is that digital signing methods are legally binding and have held up in court. In fact, most common healthcare agreements are good candidates to be moved to a digital signing platform. These include:
- Intake forms: With self-service digital agreements, patients can find and fill out the forms they need to complete before a visit without requiring intervention from healthcare administrators.
- HIPAA authorizations: Federal law allows healthcare providers to obtain HIPAA authorizations digitally from patients.
- Consent forms: Providers can use digital signing technology to prevent patients from singing consent forms without first reading the form in its entirety, ensuring all patients are properly informed.
- Telemedicine consent forms: Of course, all providers need to collect telemedicine consent from patients before care is given, even patients who have had a longstanding relationship with the practice. As the rules and best practices governing telemedicine are constantly evolving, providers can use digital signing technology to update terms as needed and deploy the changes instantly.
As the healthcare industry continues to lean towards telemedicine, both patients and providers will find the transition impossible without the adoption of new technologies. Digital agreements will continue to be at the forefront of this new era.
Brian Powers is the founder and CEO of PactSafe and a licensed attorney. As the CEO, Brian leads the strategic vision of the company’s high-velocity contract acceptance platform. Prior to founding PactSafe, Brian’s law practice focused primarily on representing the transactional needs of tech companies. Brian is a frequent speaker, instructor and author on topics ranging from clickthrough contract acceptance to privacy-related consent management.