The adoption of telemedicine is shifting into hyper-drive, with virtual healthcare interactions on pace to top 1 billion by year’s end. One of the largest telemedicine platforms, Teladoc, reported 15,000+ virtual patient requests per day in mid-March, and the pace has only quickened since then.
When we surveyed hundreds of healthcare marketers about which projects they are planning post-COVID-19, telemedicine was the top response, with 50% saying it is a major upcoming initiative.
The changed focus is necessary, but healthcare providers are finding that virtual visits are far different from in-person care.
How do you ensure that your providers’ telemedicine appointments are as effective as office visits?
New information, best practices and skillsets are now needed for communicating with patients across a video screen, from miles away. Here are practical considerations to share with physicians and staff that are starting to engage in telemedicine for the first time.
Telemedicine Equipment and Technical Considerations
It won’t be easy for all your organization’s physicians to get comfortable with telemedicine, but the right equipment and technical know-how will start them on the right foot.
When considering the setup for virtual visits, imagine the visit from the patient’s point of view. Even if you’re using a makeshift office in your guestroom during the pandemic, you can clean any clutter, angle your camera for a tidy background, and close doors and windows to block background noise.
Here are more tips on telemedicine equipment that will improve the perception of your virtual visits:
- Lighting can have a major effect on video quality. Turn on overhead lights and a desk lamp if available, and try to avoid having light-filled windows in the background.
- Use a high-quality webcam so patients can clearly see your face and feel more comfortable speaking about their symptoms and care options. Today’s webcams are relatively inexpensive – you won’t have to spend more than $100 for sufficient performance.
- Position your camera at eye level to make it easier to maintain eye contact with patients and make clear that you are focused exclusively on them.
- Use wired headphones, if available, that have a built-in microphone for good sound quality. Most regular laptop microphones won’t pick up your voice clearly enough, and wireless headphones risk disconnecting or running out of battery during the visit.
In addition, make sure your technology support team’s contact information is easily accessible. Technical problems can and will happen, and you’ll want that sticky note available when you need it.
Before the Virtual Visit
Once your equipment is sorted out, there’s more to do in preparation for a high-quality telemedicine appointment that will produce desired outcomes and attract loyal patients.
Virtual patients will need to adjust to telemedicine just like providers, so make sure to engage patients beforehand with instructions on how to use the technology. You could prepare a cheat sheet with screenshots to send to patients before their first virtual visit, and consider doing a test visit before the actual appointment. A Massachusetts Medical Society study found that when staff does a day-before test visit with first-time telemedicine patients, the call completion rate approached 100% and visit completion increased from 60% to 96%.
Just like any other visit, take whatever time you have before logging in to read the patient complaint and their medical record. Virtual visits are generally more efficient than in-person ones, and off-screen preparation will help make them even faster.
You can also consider addressing insurance and billing options with patients before a video consultation. Billing for telemedicine is a moving target as states and insurers make changes and exceptions in the wake of COVID-19, so patients are bound to have questions and will want to get the most out of their time.
An optional but worthwhile consideration for providers is wearing your white coat or other medical uniform and making sure your badge is visible. Small adjustments like this can make major differences in the patient’s perception of their visit, which will be reflected in online reviews and survey feedback.
As your virtual visit kicks off, consider who is within listening distance of your phone or video chat conversation. The patient will determine who is in their home environment, but physicians are responsible for confidentiality on their end. Inform patients early of other listeners or participants in the visit, especially if they’re off camera.
Before the meat of the visit begins, physicians should also give the patient instructions on what to do if technology malfunctions.
One of crucial patient experience factors for telemedicine is staying engaged. Physicians should try to maintain eye contact and acknowledge they are listening in more deliberate ways than in-person visits. Sometimes, that means mentioning to the patient that you’re taking notes or describing what you’re looking at on your computer screen.
Once you’ve talked through the patient’s care, be sure to explain next steps before signing off. This could include prescription pickup, billing, scheduling a follow-up or other processes that might be different from their regular in-office visits. The end of your video session is also a good time to ask for the patient’s opinion on virtual visits and prime them to complete a survey or leave a review.
After the Telemedicine Appointment
In a Massachusetts General Hospital study, 79% of patients said it was easier to schedule an appointment for a virtual follow-up than for a clinic visit, and 66% said they had strong personal connections to their telemedicine provider. Patients perceived significant added convenience, saved travel time, and expressed willingness to pay co-payments for telemedicine visits.
Right after the appointment is the best time to capture that patient experience and generate quality reviews for your providers. Consider automating your survey requests to send right after virtual visits, and use text messages to boost click-through rates. As you collect this new feedback data, put it to use by converting surveys and reviews into ratings for publication on your website and listings.
Remember in all your communications pre- and post-visit that care quality is the top consumer concern about telemedicine, followed by data security and privacy. On the other hand, convenience, time savings, access to care and financial savings are the most frequently cited reasons for patients’ preference for telemedicine. Highlighting those benefits, and easing concerns about care quality and technological issues, are key to improving patient experience for virtual visits.
Learn more about telemedicine’s impact on healthcare marketing and patient experience in our recent webinar: COVID-19, Telemedicine and Your Online Presence.
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Content Marketing Specialist