How virtual house calls improve patient experience and health outcomes
In today’s increasingly digital economy, consumers can complete an online bank transfer, order a coffee (to skip the line when they arrive), purchase shoes and catch up on their friend’s social media activity, all while using a rideshare service they scheduled with an app ten minutes ago.
Digital technology has made it possible for them to get what they want when they want it, regardless of where they are when they decide they want it – until they want to see a healthcare provider.
Upon attempting to schedule a traditional in-office appointment with a medical provider, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a would-be patient to discover the first available appointment is three weeks and a gas guzzling two-hour drive away.
An increasingly aging population coupled with a shortage of healthcare providers has created a growing demand for doctors that, until recently, often meant a lower standard of customer service in the healthcare industry. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Now patients and providers have the option of utilizing digital technology to schedule and attend virtual appointments, saving both of them time and money. Virtual visits can drastically improve patient experience and healthcare outcomes in a number of ways: patients can schedule an appointment more quickly, the appointment itself can be expedited, they do not have to travel to the medical provider and the appointment is often less expensive.
Patients can be seen sooner
The following scenario is not uncommon: Jane calls her pharmacy to refill her prescription and finds out that the prescription has expired. She needs a refill but it has been a while since her last appointment, so she is required to schedule another appointment before she can receive a new prescription. She is already out of her medication and is supposed to take it daily. She calls her healthcare provider to schedule the appointment only to find that her healthcare provider is not available for several weeks.
Traditional in-person appointments often require the provider to consult with the front-desk, gather patient records and move from room to room between patients, decreasing the time in which providers are available to schedule appointments and increasing the waiting period for a patient to schedule one.
Virtual house calls eliminate the time the provider spends moving from location to location and gathering information from a variety of constituents. Providers can save valuable time for actual patient interaction by accessing the electronic health records (EHRs) of each patient and making several virtual house calls in a row from one location; in turn allowing patients to schedule same-day or near-same-day appointments when they need them.
Same-day or near-same-day access to a medical provider lowers the risk that the patient’s health will decline to a level that requires more extensive and costly medical attention in the future, while also bringing healthcare industry customer service standards closer to the standards consumers experience in other industries.
Appointment time is expedited
A traditional appointment with a healthcare provider requires a patient to factor in both drive and wait-time—in the reception area and again in the exam room, along with time for the actual discussion with the provider. The patient might have to clear half a day from her calendar for what often amounts to a ten-minute discussion.
Virtual house calls eliminate patient drive and wait-time, simply requiring the patient to find a private location for a virtual chat. This decreases patient and provider distraction, allowing for the same—and often better—level of care that the patient would receive during a traditional in-office visit. And after the conversation ends, the patient can get on with their day without factoring in any additional wait or travel-time.
Expedited visits make it easier for patients to find the time to schedule and keep their appointments, decreasing the chance of unresolved patient health issues and improving healthcare customer service through increased accessibility.
Patients can say ‘Goodbye’ to geographical limitations
Patients, particularly those who are elderly or live in rural areas, often find that a specific provider or specialist that they wish to see is located too far from home. Unable to justify the time, expense and inconvenience that it would require to travel to the geographically inaccessible provider of their choosing, these patients typically have to make the difficult decision between seeing a specialist who would be more likely to improve their care and receiving potentially less effective care from a general practitioner closer to home.
Virtual house calls eliminate this conundrum, allowing patients more ownership and control over their healthcare decisions while also often improving healthcare outcomes.
Appointments are less expensive
Finally, virtual house calls are more cost-effective for both patients and providers. They eliminate the cost of gas or a bus pass required to travel to a medical appointment. They drastically reduce the amount of paid or unpaid leave that an employee must take in order to factor in hours of travel and wait-time for an appointment that may actually only take a few minutes. And they allow providers to fill their calendars with more patients than they can when scheduling traditional in-office appointments.
Cost-effective digital healthcare removes a significant barrier to entry for would-be patients who cannot afford to take time away from work or pay for transportation to attend a traditional in-office appointment.
When healthcare practitioners join the digital revolution, supplementing traditional in-office appointments with virtual appointment options such as phone, video chat, email, text, and more, both patients and providers benefit from increased access to care, an improved healthcare experience and better health outcomes.
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