With Covid-19 came a flood of new telehealth (virtual consultation) health solutions, exposing more patients to its benefits and features. More publicity, more awareness, and more conversation have brought telehealth to a wider audience, and that can only be good for everyone. The question remains, however, how do you create that confidence in telehealth for a patient, so that they turn to it the next time they need healthcare?
Possible candidates for understanding the dynamics could include different patient demographics or the fact that the proposed solution is easier to navigate in one practice than another. The following are recommendations and tips for general healthcare providers looking to incorporate formalized telehealth into their practices.
1. Be the one to present the benefits of telehealth and start the conversation
I was in conversation with a provider and asked: how did you get telehealth so well, so quickly? He said, I tell my patients they’re crazy if they don’t use it. He talks to them about it in his rooms and makes it part of his consultation. He emphasizes the benefits of telehealth to the patient such as the convenience factor, saving time and money by not having to drive to their room. He mentions that he can usually extend same-day care, while charging less for it, and often gives a free consultation for using his solution. He also notices that his patients, while generally aware of telehealth as a solution, only begin to trust the service once he introduces the subject.
2. Market your service
The problem with telehealth is letting patients know that healthcare providers are actually offering it. It’s potentially quite time-consuming and I often see a provider give up after about a month, saying their patients weren’t interested. Most of the time they didn’t even know they could use it.
However, these same patients continue to use WhatsApp and email – forms of telehealth although not necessarily secure.
It’s not uncommon for practices to have a pager they’ve designed with the benefits for their patients, how to use it, and it’s a great place to include consultation pricing. Patients like to have something tangible. Placing information on Facebook, LinkedIn and municipal circulars is also common practice. A very effective idea that I have seen in practice is a fridge magnet containing the vital information about the telehealth solution. The patient could attach it to their refrigerator door, not only was it convenient, but it also served as a constant reminder that the health care provider was offering such a service in the first place.
3. Speak frankly
This was great advice for providers….stay away from telehealth jargon, like “virtual care”. Instead, stick to more familiar phrases such as “online date.” The idea is fairly new as it stands. Be confusing and off-putting Make it easy to talk to the patient, so as not to leave them confused and suspicious of what, to many, is cutting-edge technology and ideas.
4. Make questions easy
Including the mention of telehealth in the conversation is one thing, but then you need to encourage your patients to ask questions, so you and your staff need to have the answers at the ready. Providers also put equipment in their rooms, inviting their patients to approach their staff about telehealth. When patients have the ability to ask questions about telehealth, especially with their trusted provider, they will feel much more comfortable. Make sure the telehealth solution you choose can offer some kind of information sharing or training to staff members.
5. Practical demonstration – show and tell
I love the idea of demonstrating your solution to your staff (and even your patients). It shows that practice is involved. You can do a mock consultation with one of your reception assistants and show how simple and effective a consultation can be. You are able to show them that it works. There is no better person to demonstrate than you and the more you practice, the more confident you will become.
6. Tools of the telehealth trade
I’ve seen a telehealth initiative fail because patients felt like they needed a desktop or high-end smartphone to access the solution. Reassure your patient that he probably has all the tools he needs and it probably won’t require any expense on his part. Make sure your patients know what they need and it probably won’t require any extra expense on their part. Chances are they already have everything they need. This often feels complex and requires additional equipment. Demonstrating how easy it is will set the record straight.
In answering the question of why one practice has a thriving telehealth initiative and another does not, provider intervention and participation play an important role in success. Installing a new solution, sitting back and waiting to see what happens, is doomed to failure. Like any good idea, you need to tell people about it. The secret is to put yourself in the patient’s shoes. When you analyze a new solution, think about it from their point of view. Once you’ve instilled patient confidence in your telehealth solution, you’ll wonder what you did without it.