Without a doubt, one of my favorite silver-linings of the COVID-19 pandemic was definitely drive-thru Mexican food. I kid you not – during the thick of the pandemic last year, the local Mexican restaurant in town offered drive-thru service, margaritas and all. On a Friday (or even Tuesday night, because all the days ran together anyways), you could call in your order, pull up to the front door, and drive away with a styrofoam cup full of frozen margarita, completely covered in plastic wrap. I’m not exactly sure what the point of the thin plastic barrier was…perhaps just enough of a deterrent to keep most people from drinking it on the drive home. Nonetheless, the “drive-thru margarita” was only in existence for a few months, but it was definitely a glorious silver lining of the pandemic. I‘ll save my churro delivery stories for another time.
As if our society wasn’t already obsessed with convenience before the pandemic, it quickly became a necessity in 2020, and it definitely isn’t going anywhere in the near future. While 2020 was a year most known for its challenges, a lot of how we did life changed for the better. Unlike the concept of drive-thru margaritas, it’s evident telehealth is here to stay. The birth of telehealth was actually quite some time ago, but like an actress waiting in the wings, COVID-19 was the launching point of telehealth’s grand debut. Gabriel Paz Larach writes in his article for Harvard Business Review, “…[I]t’s safe to assume that telehealth won’t return to its pre-pandemic level when only 8% of Americans used it.” (1) Also, according to Yahoo! Finance, “The Global Telehealth Market is estimated to be USD 63.4 Bn in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 167.2 Bn by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 21.4%.” (2)
What Patients Want
Suzanne Cogan notes in her article, “Why 2021 Patient Experience Will be Tied to Telehealth Success,” “Telehealth claim lines increased nearly 3,000% between September 2019 and September 2020.” (3) Interestingly, patients reporting their desire for the continuation of telehealth is motivated by convenience rather than the concern of transmitting the virus. Cogan writes, “According to SPH Analytics’ ongoing consumer telehealth survey, which measures healthcare experiences, 70% of patients preferred virtual visits over an in-person appointment to save time… [A]voiding sick people in the waiting room was the second-most cited reason among patients who preferred virtual visits.” (3) It should come as no surprise in a world where we can order groceries to be delivered to our front door as we sit, typing up a blog, that the majority of patients desire convenient healthcare, too. From this point forwards, when healthcare providers consider delivering a quality patient experience, they should strongly evaluate their telehealth patient experience.
Cogan provides her readers with four tactics to consider when building an experience-driven telehealth program: (3)
Periodically asking patients to rate the context of visits (e.g., ease of logging into a telehealth encounter, the professionalism of the on-call nurse, etc).
- Smart Engagement:
Effectively and efficiently communicating with patients regarding the availability of telehealth and the benefits of using it. Note that preferred means of communication vary among generations.
Be open to changes that can positively affect the patient experience.
- Ongoing Analysis and Measurement:
Occasionally survey patients and gather information to assure patients’ needs are being met, in addition to analyzing any developing trends. (3)
The Beauty of Human Connection
It’s important to note that telehealth is a valuable, supplemental tool for the world of healthcare and a good question to ask when evaluating your patients’ virtual care experience is, “How are we making it personal?” Going back to Larach’s previously referenced article, “Technology streamlines the way we live our lives and engage with one another. But it seldom replicates the nuances and beauty of human connection, and that deficiency is a significant problem in health care.” (1) In his article, he addresses the need for telehealth technology to be personal and user-friendly for both the patient and the provider.
- Create a Strong First Impression:
“When using technology, first impressions are informed by the effort it requires to execute tasks (compared to that of alternatives) and the instant gratification it provides.” People typically don’t enjoy learning new processes and if the first impression of a telehealth visit is that it’s complicated, patients will naturally be disinterested from using it.
- Build Active Engagement and Meaningful Connection:
These two components are crucial for patients to feel heard and for providers to be able to deliver quality care. Larach writes, “Active engagement for patients could be, for instance, app-based prompts to confirm their symptoms and communicate concerns to providers the day of the visit, or a friendly text message with a link to join the visit minutes before starting. For providers, it might look like a virtual assistant that reminds physicians to follow up with patients depending on what the outcome and treatment plan of a particular visit was.” (1)
- Instill Confidence and Ensure Safety:
Clinicians put in a lot of hours to ensure their diagnoses, prognoses, and treatment plans are rooted in fact-based science. In addition, patients strongly desire to feel confident regarding their physician’s expertise and that their information will remain confidential. Larach suggests using technology for telehealth services that will ensure both. He writes, “[V]irtual assistants could listen to the provider-patient dialogue and search digital clinical guideline libraries for the latest evidence-based practices pertinent to the patients’ conditions and summarize key findings to assist providers in delivering well-informed advice… [O]nce physicians had reviewed this material, patients could receive this content via an encrypted messaging system.”
Although technology cannot fully replace the human connection, it can enhance the provider-patient relationship if done correctly. I’ll leave you with one last quote from Larach’s article that sums things up nicely: “Telehealth, of course, can never replace in-person interactions between patients and caregivers. But as experiences during the pandemic have proven, it has the potential to improve the convenience and quality of care.” No doubt about it, telehealth is here to stay and although it’s still unchartered territory (or at least unfamiliar territory) for many healthcare facilities, it’s in high demand among the majority of healthcare consumers. The quality of virtual care they receive will directly impact their overall satisfaction.
Please let us know if you have comments or questions, and subscribe to our Email Updates so that you can be assured to receive Thinking Thursdays TIPs.
Jerry L. Stone