COVID-19 has forever changed the way hospitals and health systems operate, including rapid adoption of telehealth and telemedicine services. According to Frost and Sullivan, demand for telehealth is expected to soar 64.3% in 2020 because of the pandemic and grow seven-fold over the next five years.
According to a recent survey, 75% of first-time telehealth patients expressed satisfaction with their visit and many expect telehealth to become a standard part of healthcare access. Still, many patients may be confused by the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” and may not understand how and when to access these services.
The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and the meanings can vary from one health system to another. Traditionally, “telehealth” refers to clinical telephonic support, often occurring through call centers, and may incorporate a transfer option to elevate the concern to a specialty area best suited to address it. “Telemedicine” more commonly refers to virtual visits, such as a video chat and assessment completed by a provider.
The Value of Telehealth
Throughout the pandemic, states have had to limit or defer elective appointments and procedures to varying degrees, and we’ve seen some states like Texas resume these visits only to have them shut down again as COVID cases surged. As a solution to preserving capacity, PPE, and adhering to government mandates, telehealth has emerged as an essential aspect of care delivery.
The longer care is deferred the more worrisome it is for patients with non-COVID conditions who could suffer significant negative outcomes, resulting in a whole new type of health crisis. Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, has said, “The health effects of this pandemic stretch well beyond those diagnosed and suffering from COVID-19 and are having an acute and adverse impact on cancer patients, many of whom can’t afford treatment delays.”
Telehealth services provide a convenient entry point for care – which expands provider capacity for chronic disease management, preventive care, preliminary evaluation, and follow-up visits. To accommodate unexpected surges in visit demand and meet short- and long-term consumer demand, telehealth must be integrated across the care continuum and support patients beyond the virtual visit.
Here are three ways our customers are leveraging patient communication as a key component of their telehealth strategy.
- Ensure Patients are Aware of Their Telehealth Options
Despite the rise in demand, many patients may not be aware of telehealth services or how they can access them. To address this, providers should clarify how and when patients should access these services, and deploy operational updates via social media channels and their website. In addition to providing updates for patients already looking for services, you can deploy “on demand” or community messaging via phone calls or text messages to proactively share this information with your population so they are aware of their care options during the pandemic.
- Help Patients Understand and Prepare for Their Telehealth Appointments
Often when patients schedule a virtual visit, they may not understand the process or know what to expect. With appointment reminders or pre-appointment messages, patients can be educated about how to access their appointment and ensure they are in a place where they can comfortably complete it.
- Follow Up with Patients Post-Visit to Further Improve Outcomes
Since patients may be unfamiliar with the telehealth or virtual visit process, follow up is critical to ensuring they understand their care plan and to offer assistance in scheduling subsequent appointments. Automated calls and texts provide a scalable way to perform this follow up as well as monitor patients to improve outcomes. It’s essential to offer an option during these follow up interactions for patients to connect with a live person or receive a call back from a nurse to mitigate negative outcomes and prevent admissions during times of overcapacity.
Additionally, online questionnaires can be used post-visit to understand patient satisfaction levels as demand continues to increase. Similar to post-discharge follow up, post-telehealth visit communications further demonstrate the organization’s commitment to a positive experience and helps patients to feel comfortable with telehealth options in lieu of in person visits.
At the time of this writing, confirmed cases of COVID-19 are surging in many states across the country and many systems will continue to use telehealth and telemedicine services to mitigate its impact on hospitals. To brace for the next wave, now is the time to implement the right tools to proactively communicate with patients about all of their care options, and continue to preserve valuable equipment, capacity, and staff resources.
Just as demand for online services that have typically been slow to go digital, such as grocery shopping, is expected to accelerate even after the pandemic, the healthcare industry is recognizing telehealth as a permanent trend.
For more information on how you can implement these programs to support your telehealth and telemedicine efforts, please drop us a line at www.cipherhealth.com/contact.