The COVID-19 pandemic gave telehealth new prominence in healthcare. Many medical offices closed or restricted in-person visits to only high acuity medical needs and many patients were not willing to expose themselves to the virus by leaving their homes or entering a healthcare setting. As a result, telehealth became an extremely popular alternative to a traditional medical office visit and sustained use has increased significantly compared to pre-COVID levels.
Healthcare providers also embraced all forms of Telehealth to care for patients throughout the pandemic including video visits, secure messaging, remote patient monitoring (RPM), and telephone calls. This long-distance patient and clinician contact facilitated care delivery, patient education, and a sense of connectedness despite widespread isolation.
The pandemic made telehealth a necessity, but it also allowed patients and providers from all over the U.S. to try telehealth out and most were satisfied with their experience. Going forward, some care will return to the in-person setting, but some healthcare interactions will certainly remain virtual. This expanded access to digital healthcare has the potential to improve the patient experience in five important ways.
Healthcare provided in a virtual setting eliminates the need for a patient to leave their home and saves them significant time involved with traveling to a medical appointment and waiting to see a provider. As healthcare consumers become more savvy, convenient access to care combined with digital tools will be an important differentiator in a competitive market and a central part of the patient experience.
There is potential to leverage telehealth for some lower acuity urgent care needs, medication management, remote monitoring, and other opportunities to conveniently connect patients to the care they need virtually.
Reduced Barriers to Care
For many people, especially disadvantaged communities, taking time off work, paying for childcare, and figuring out how to get to and from a medical appointment can all be hurdles that prevent them from seeking care. Telehealth significantly reduces those barriers. In addition, telehealth may reduce patient anxiety for vulnerable populations such as the immunocompromised, by reducing viral exposure in clinic waiting rooms, and for care that does not require physical examination, like mental health services.
Deepened Connection to the Provider
Providers seeing patients in their home environment is helping them gain a more comprehensive understanding of the patient’s life outside the clinic. It can help them deliver more holistic care based on not only the medical information being shared, but also the environment. Patients may feel more comfortable sharing personal information in a setting where they are comfortable.
Enhanced Continuity of Care
Patients living with a chronic condition or recovering from a longer term illness or injury can benefit from periodic telehealth check-ins when an in-person visit may be unnecessary. This supplemental care is especially important to ensure conditions are well managed between in-person visits, especially when it’s combined with remote patient monitoring. If a provider has access to important health data such as blood pressure readings, both telehealth and in-person visits can be more impactful for the patient. Instead of collecting data during the visit, the patient and provider can focus on improving their health, achieving their health goals, and more.
Improved Access to Specialists
Appointments with sub-specialists can be difficult to secure. One reason is the limited number of providers in each sub-specialty. Another is that these providers are typically concentrated in urban areas and large academic settings. For rural patients, they may have to travel several hours to see a sub-specialist like a rheumatologist. Telehealth can not only broaden access to a larger pool of providers when appointment availability is scarce, but also reduce the travel burden for patients.
For rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, they can complete testing close to home, which enables the provider to confirm treatment efficacy or adjust treatment as needed. This alleviates the travel burden, and frees up time for sub-specialists to focus on patients whose condition is not well managed and require in-person care. It also ensures that those in-person visits are not focused on data collection and can be high quality, substantive experiences for both the patient and the provider.
Telehealth is here to stay and, in many instances, is a great option to receive healthcare – including managing a chronic condition, receiving preventive care, and even acute care in some cases. In a survey conducted by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, the majority of patients reported that they were very satisfied with the care they received via telehealth, they felt a sense of access and continuity of care, and they plan to continue using it in the future.
A great digital experience is becoming the new normal for healthcare. Are you ready to meet patient expectations and provide them with a seamless healthcare experience? Request more information.