As digital transformation continues to spread its impact on a global scale, it often feels as though the world around us is shrinking. Innovations like Skype and FaceTime enable us to remain in close contact with family and friends who live abroad, social media applications like Facebook and Twitter allow us to peer into the lives of people who live halfway across the globe. These are just a few examples of digital transformation’s reach and influence.
While digital transformation has had a profound impact on personal interactions and communication in the last decade, numerous industries have also felt the influence of such digital advances. Healthcare is one industry in particular that has experienced a great deal of change, namely the implementation and use of telehealth services. In fact, the number of patients using telehealth services is expected to rise to 7 million this year, according to an IHS report. Telehealth is defined as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
Although the adoption of telehealth was somewhat slow in its inception, telehealth visits are now becoming quite popular – due in part to the level of ease and convenience that is experienced by both patients and providers. Because of telehealth’s growing popularity, the need to ensure quality of service is becoming more significant each year. Telehealth is not just a fad; it’s here to stay. Here are a few telehealth best practices to ensure that your patients are getting the most out of their virtual visits.
Tip #1: Use the Right Technology
When it comes to using telehealth services, using the right technology is highly critical for both the patient and provider. One tip is to make sure both parties test their equipment and process flows – ensuring that the time spent during the visit results in clear, effective communication. Double check the quality of equipment – such as video cameras and microphones – before initiating a telehealth visit.
In addition to ensuring that the basic equipment is up to par before a virtual visit, analysis of resolution and bandwidth requirements must be taken into consideration. A recent report performed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) branch of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services discovered that not using the appropriate technology for the implementation of telehealth can result in significant errors to the process. For instance, the project found that when resolution-related issues occurred in telehealth, crucial data such as clear images of medications or patient wound areas created new problems. The project also discovered that issues can occur with a healthcare system’s firewall, blocking connection to remote locations. These two potential obstacles demonstrate the need for the right type of technology to be put in place before implementing any type of telehealth solution.
With proper technology and equipment, suitable technological support must also be available for the use of telehealth solutions. The same study performed by AHRQ reported that when technical support was not available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there were negative impacts on patient safety and patient services. Continuous technical support for telehealth solutions is critical to a telehealth program’s success, as well as patient outcomes.
Tip #2: Keep the Focus on the Patient Experience
While having the correct technology and equipment is crucial to using telehealth effectively, another significant tip is to keep the focus on the overall patient experience. Because virtual visits are no different than office visits (and can sometimes facilitate even more effective communication than in-person visits can), the primary focus during telehealth visits must remain on the patient experience.
One specific way in which patients and providers can ensure that the patient experience is kept in focus during telehealth visits is for providers to remain cognizant of body language. For instance, consistently creating eye contact with the patient can have a significant effect on a patient’s feeling of engagement. When a patient can feel that their provider is fully engaged and present through positive body language over video, they are more likely to engage themselves. A higher level of engagement from both patient and provider leads to better patient outcomes and higher patient satisfaction.
Tip #3: Practice, Practice, Practice
Perhaps the most important tip for using a telehealth solution is for all parties involved to be well-practiced. As familiarity with telehealth solutions and equipment can directly impact a provider’s execution of the technology when visiting with a patient, practicing with the equipment becomes extremely important.
For instance, registered nurses, nurse practitioners or providers that consult with patients over virtual visits must be extremely familiar with the system and processes to ensure a smooth visit with the patient. As technological errors can arise at any time, healthcare professionals must be familiar with the system to know how and when to contact technical support to ensure that the patient receives the care they need in a timely manner. In addition to providers being experienced in using telehealth, it can be beneficial for patients to become familiarized themselves with a telehealth solution – leading to more effective use of the time they have scheduled with their provider.
As the world continues to become both larger and smaller in size – larger in that populations of many nations are exploding and smaller in that newfound technology is creating stronger ties – telehealth will continue to grow in its use and influence. By using the right technology, paying close attention to how the patient experience is affected, and taking the time to fully understand the system, telehealth will continue to become an unstoppable force in revolutionizing the delivery of care in our nation.