Before the pandemic, most hospitals and physicians had never considered telemedicine as an essential part of their digital strategy. Marred by slow adoption and bad PR, it was more of a luxury item — and often even considered experimental. Those perceptions quickly went out the window when COVID-19 forced hospitals to adapt to a near-overnight change in care delivery.
Though telemedicine has entered the mainstream and usage rates have soared, the rush to get a solution in place led to a free-for-all of decentralized adoption. As certain parts of the country begin to adapt to the “new normal,” hospitals are finding themselves having to quickly reassess the technologies that carried them during the peak of this crisis.
Pandemic-purchasing: Right now vs. right fit
While consumers emptied shelves across the nation’s grocery stores, panic-buying bread, milk, and toilet paper, healthcare organizations felt a similar urgency to act. They quickly went into survival mode, “pandemic-purchasing” telemedicine solutions just to get through COVID-19. Many got started with familiar non-healthcare-specific platforms, like Zoom, FaceTime, and Google, in a frenzy to keep their business afloat and provide patients with access to care.
This solved a very real and important problem: providing care to patients during a period of social distancing, stay-at-home orders, inundated hospitals, and packed emergency rooms. But it also led to a host of new issues — like “Zoombombings” and hacked software, dropped FaceTime calls, pixelated video quality, and hard-to-see screens, creating a frustrating patient experience overall.
Bad telemedicine causes more harm than people think. The experience has to be seamless; otherwise, patients will look for another provider. Telemedicine’s convenience factors — it’s faster, there’s no travel, and it can be done from the comfort of one’s own home, for example — put hospitals at risk of patient leakage if their solution fails to meet expectations. It’s easier than ever for a patient to move on, so you can’t give them a reason to do so.
But perhaps even more damaging are those who don’t know they have access to telehealth in the first place. This is especially true during these uncertain times, when many are hesitant to venture into a hospital or clinic — ground zero for the pandemic. Avoiding care is not only harmful to public health, but it is economically disastrous to hospitals nationwide. Get the word out about the telemedicine services your organization offers so a lack of awareness doesn’t set you up for failure before you even get started.
A great telemedicine experience is game-changing for patients and hospitals alike
From all of the pandemonium, some good news has emerged. Patients actually like telemedicine, and they are more likely to proactively seek care virtually.
Between commuting to a brick-and-mortar location and waiting to be seen, telemedicine saves patients over an hour and a half of wasted time. In many ways, it mimics the experience patients now expect from consumer industries: convenient access to care, whenever they need it, right at their fingertips. This is good for business and, more holistically, public health. And it’s one of the many reasons 83% of patients expect to use telemedicine in a post-pandemic world.
Hospitals and clinics are also reaping the benefits of telemedicine. From maintaining continuity of care to reaching new patients in unexpected locales or demographics, telemedicine is proving itself to be part of the lifeblood of any modern hospital. Those that have already adopted an easy-to-use virtual solution are not only seeing a rebound in patient engagement but a huge increase in their market share as well.
Finding the right fit: How to get a sustainable telemedicine solution and workflow in place
Today, much of the country is entering different phases of reopening. Physicians have a better understanding of COVID-19 and how to treat new cases, and lawmakers continue to monitor its spread. Telemedicine remains an integral part of healthcare strategy, and all signs indicate that the virtual trend will only strengthen. Doctors who were previously resistant to the digital wave now relish the day-to-day use of telemedicine as something that keeps them safe and empowers them to practice, despite the circumstances. They are even seeing telemedicine as a tool that has augmented their business and allowed it to grow during what has been a downtime for much of the industry.
Now the challenge for clinics and hospitals becomes moving beyond the quick-fix solutions they cobbled together under extreme duress. How do you then find that “right fit” that will help you achieve long-term success?
In terms of compliance, convenience, quality, and features, not all telemedicine solutions are created equal. Admittedly, there’s a lot to think about when replacing your telemedicine infrastructure. Even if your current solution leaves much to be desired, choosing and onboarding with something new can be a tricky — though necessary — charge.
When evaluating your options, consider the following.
1. Simplicity is paramount. Patients say easy-to-use technology is the #1 factor that encourages them to use telemedicine. To be truly effective, the platform you deploy will need to be straightforward and patient friendly, with no download or installation requirements, which only introduce barriers to care.
2. How secure is the platform? While relaxed HIPAA regulations during COVID-19 opened new space for familiar consumer technologies — like Google Duo, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and FaceTime — they have a short shelf life. Make sure you ramp up with a platform that will not only meet your immediate needs but will also be viable once the rules are reinstated.
3. Patients don’t want to sacrifice quality for virtual care — nor should they need to. A great telemedicine experience will reflect an in-person visit. Appointments should be conducted in HD to minimize the risk of miscommunication or misdiagnosis. Invest in high-quality video, audio, and lighting equipment to make sure patients can see and hear their doctors clearly. To help them feel comfortable during each virtual visit, instruct physicians on best practices for dress code, office setup, and on-camera demeanor — and how to effectively translate their bedside manner to the screen.
For more on physician etiquette during virtual appointments, download Telemedicine 101 here.
4. Lastly, how well does your telemedicine solution fit into your hospital’s broader strategies and longer-term goals? For many organizations, this is a period of rebuilding and making up for lost revenue. Now is an ideal time to dedicate energy toward building a great online reputation. Look for a telehealth platform that can capture and publish patient reviews right after each virtual appointment. By integrating telemedicine with reputation management, you have a massive opportunity to drive patient acquisition — and further expand your hospital’s brand.
COVID-19 has required us to adapt in ways we never thought possible. Everything from socially distanced playdates to mass homeschooling quickly became the norm. Healthcare rose to the occasion with telemedicine for the health and safety of their business and patients.
But beyond its use as a sheer precautionary tactic, healthcare organizations have found that good telemedicine actually reduces no-shows and cancellations, drives a higher volume of visits, and improves patient adherence to prescription and treatment regimens. When coupled with communication, patient-engagement, and reputation-building tools, the telemedicine platform you put in place today can be a key marketing differentiator that will set your hospital up for success and growth well into the future.