Up until recently, very few patients had accessed healthcare using telemedicine tools. However, in the wake of COVID-19, patients are much more aware of the existence of virtual care services, including live videoconferencing, remote patient monitoring, and online or mobile communications between patients and providers. These tools are not only useful during a pandemic, but also provide added convenience, time savings, and, in some cases, even better outcomes.
In order to provide the best virtual care possible, physicians and administrators need to understand how their patients view telemedicine and telehealth. Knowing what people prefer and addressing roadblocks to increased use can also help draw in new patients and keep existing ones engaged. Following are some common questions we hear while informing patients about the possibilities of virtual medicine.
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During a remote visit, a patient can meet virtually with a care provider through online video calls, which people most commonly associate with telehealth. Virtual care may also include phone calls or text messages. During a remote appointment, a physician can still take a thorough patient history, assess a patient’s appearance, and even guide a patient through some aspects of a physical exam. There is also the added benefit of being able to evaluate a patient’s home environment and relationship with live-in family members.
A video consult also offers the opportunity for providers to loop in other members of the patient’s care team. Specialists, case managers, and others involved in care can be brought together on a single video session for efficiency, speed, and convenience.
Virtual care services also enable patients living in rural or remote areas to visit a local clinic and use video tools to interact with specialists practicing out of other locations. This can expand a patient’s options for quality, personalized healthcare.
Patients need to understand how virtual services can improve their individual healthcare needs. In order to provide more sustainable virtual care, providers should think beyond the current pandemic and consider how to increase access to healthcare for everyone in their communities. Healthcare organizations can look at demographics in their surrounding region and consider which populations may be falling through the cracks. Immediate needs in the community that can often be managed via remote care may include:
Providers should make sure to communicate that replacing some aspects of in-person care with virtual options provides many patient benefits, such as saving time and money, increasing convenience and efficiency, and lowering stress.
Many virtual care platforms are designed to have a very simple, easy-to-use patient interface. Some offer the flexibility to communicate via video, phone, messaging, or email so that providers can choose between multiple options based on patient preference, needs, and ability.
Additionally, the setup for a virtual visit should be as simple and straightforward as possible. Using a communication solution that encompasses one secure browser allows patients to connect without having to download apps or set up passwords.
The best patient communication solutions are ones that don’t involve specialized hardware. This provides increased access for all and allows healthcare organizations to continue using the same platform long into the future.
For video calls, patients will need to have a computer or mobile device that has a microphone and a camera. Most patients already own this sort of equipment – a recent American Community Survey Report found that 89% of American households had a computer and/or smartphone . If their devices don’t contain this hardware, external microphones or webcams can be purchased and plugged in.
Patients are right to be concerned about how their private information will be used, handled, and stored. Within the past three years, over 93% of healthcare organizations have had data breaches, and around 10% of patients have had their medical records compromised . Any new telemedicine tools need to meet the highest standards for privacy, safety, and security.
Communications tools need to follow the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, and messaging systems additionally need to meet HIPAA messaging compliance policies. Healthcare organizations that are looking to implement new systems or upgrade old ones should look for platforms that are certified by the Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) in order to ensure they meet industry-standard information security requirements.
Using virtual tools for doctor’s appointments can lower patient wait times, while also eliminating travel time to and from the facility. Virtual visits can also save patients money – a remote appointment may make it easier for a patient to avoid taking time off of work or finding childcare. All of this added convenience can add up to higher patient satisfaction.
When providers use all-in-one enterprise telemedicine solutions that are integrated with care team communications and their EHR, they can reap additional benefits. For instance, switching to text messaging for lab results improved wait time by 8 minutes in one study, compared with a traditional system that used phone calls and paging .
Virtual care should integrate with and complement existing treatment plans and protocols, not completely upend them. Remote healthcare can fit into any point along the care spectrum, from new on-demand visits to specialist appointments to pre-op and follow-up care.
Better communications platforms can support and enhance existing workflows in order to better optimize patient care. For example, upon being discharged from surgery, a nurse can open a line of communication with a patient via secure texting. Providers can provide clear post-op plans and patients can easily ask questions when something may be wrong. Providers can then follow-up with video calls or instructional videos. Patients are reassured that their concerns are being heard, and providers can save time by not having to play phone tag.
Patients and providers alike are finding that virtual visits are at least as effective as in-person ones. When one healthcare organization switched to a secure text messaging platform, 83% of providers felt that care was faster and of higher quality. Extending communication beyond the clinic can also provide additional improvements in patient outcomes. Secure messaging programs can increase patient adherence to medication or care plans . Patients should feel confident that the quality of their care is not diminished just because interactions are taking place over a video screen rather than in an office.
COVID-19 has led to a fundamental shift in the way that patients expect to access healthcare. In order to keep up, providers will need to continue to offer cutting-edge solutions that meet patient needs and preferences, while protecting their personal information and delivering the highest quality care.
TigerConnect is a secure, HIPAA-compliant communications platform that can help healthcare organizers better facilitate and manage remote care, patient communication, and care team collaboration. Request your free demo today to learn more about virtual care systems from our telehealth specialists.