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Improving the patient experience through telehealth

Tom Toperczer, Director Product Management OmniJoin
Written by: Tom Toperczer

The patient experience includes more than just the time spent with providers and staff. It encompasses every interaction associated with the healthcare organization, including scheduling an appointment, waiting in the waiting room and receiving the bill after care is delivered.

Improving the patient experience has become more crucial to healthcare organizations due to the growing influence of consumerism as well as competition from non-traditional delivery settings, such as urgent care clinics and telehealth providers.

Many organizations are finding, however, that by adding their own telehealth services they can cost-effectively improve the overall patient experience. Offering telehealth services can eliminate waits for appointments, but also the travel and lengthy waiting room times that are associated with patient dissatisfaction. Leading web conferencing platforms for telehealth further enhance the experience through advanced features to more closely replicate an in-person encounter and improve communication.

Better patient experience drives patient volume
A major factor behind the drive toward consumerism and improving the patient experience is that patients’ out-of-pocket spending on healthcare continues to rise. A comprehensive study published in 2016 of more than 7 million commercial insurance claims found that patient cost-sharing increased by 37 percent over the four years examined, while deductibles increased by 86 percent during the period.

With greater financial stake, patients now expect providers to deliver “great service” and to “make life easier” just as they would from non-healthcare companies. In fact, another survey by Accenture found that 61 percent of consumers would switch providers for a sooner available appointment and 52 percent would switch to obtain an appointment at a convenient location.

A reason for this lack of loyalty is best explained in a recent study which showed that the time patients spent traveling to and from their provider’s office and in the waiting area consumes 121 minutes of their time, including 37 minutes in travel and 84 minutes in the waiting and exam rooms. Authors calculated that all of this time costs each patient $43 in addition to the medical costs.

Offering telehealth services can reduce these indirect costs and greatly increase access and convenience. Combined, this translates to a more positive patient experience.

Technology enhances experience
While convenience and access are important aspects of the patient experience, telehealth can also positively influence other factors surrounding the clinical encounter. The wait before seeing a physician, for example, is likely to be quite brief for care delivered through telehealth. The advantage to physicians is that they can track how many patients are in the virtual waiting room through an advanced web conferencing platform for telehealth, which also shows how long they have been there. This feature offers physicians transparency over patient wait times that is unavailable to them in the office setting. Meanwhile, patients on the other end of the telehealth encounter receive a customized in-waiting message to let them know that the physician will see them shortly. The experience is less frustrating for patients, who are typically at home and can occupy themselves with other activities.

Once the clinical encounter begins, patient experience can be improved if the web conferencing technology offers high-definition video and audio to more closely simulate the in-person experience. This superior video quality is also crucial to physicians interpreting the patients’ non-verbal communication, which can significantly influence clinical decision making.

Web conferencing platforms for telehealth, particularly if they are cloud-based, also offer workflow efficiency. With only a web browser and secure log-in physicians can deliver care. The ability to share test and imaging results over the cloud-based platform enhances efficiency, as well. Likewise, a simple, intuitive web conferencing platform interface ensures that the technology does not distract the physician or the patient, who can instead focus on communication.

Scalable for the future
While some healthcare organizations have not yet begun incorporating telehealth into their care strategy, one health system has developed deep expertise using web conferencing video technology to improve the patient experience. Cleveland Clinic, which opened their eHospital in 2014, monitors 100 beds in six ICUs using a variety of technology. Physicians are linked to patient information through the health system’s electronic health record, while they can perform visual assessments using in-room cameras and collaborate with caregivers in the intensive care units using two-way audiovisual communication tools.

Not all telehealth deployments need to be as intensive. The Big Sky Aphasia Program, for example, is a single clinic based in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at the University of Montana that leverages web conferencing telehealth technology to deliver speech and language therapy to individuals with aphasia and associated conditions resulting from stroke and traumatic brain injury. Many clinic patients live in rural regions who lack access to high-quality speech therapy services or have transportation or medical issues that make travel difficult. The clinic’s web conferencing technology is a welcome opportunity for them to access care.

So whether it is a solo practitioner or a large integrated health system, telehealth offers opportunities to greatly expand access while improving the patient experience.