Jun 23 2020

#ATA2020: 4 Ways to Transform the Telehealth Patient Experience

Now that a wide array of users has been exposed to virtual care, providers must take time to review and refine the process, conference panelists said.

There’s no question virtual care has proved its lifesaving value during the COVID-19 pandemic — and that the platform’s pivotal role isn’t going away.

The average number of daily telehealth visits is 10 times higher than this time last year, recent data from telemedicine services provider Amwell shows, and physician adoption has tripled.

The next step: encouraging patients to seek telehealth more widely (and permanently) as healthcare organizations work to reduce onsite foot traffic and update digital options, regardless of how the novel coronavirus evolves.

Usability and personalization are key to building rapport beyond the current health emergency, presenters at the American Telemedicine Association’s 2020 conference said on Monday. 

Given that patients could seek virtual care in a wide variety of places, that focus is also good for business. “Now, it’s even more imperative to create that differentiated experience,” said Dr. Adrienne Boissy, chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic. 

Boissy and other panelists spoke at several live and on-demand ATA2020 sessions about ways to ensure telehealth exchanges are safe, smooth and positioned for success.

1. Offer a Dependable and Familiar Telehealth User Experience

Telehealth entry and delivery must be consistent across providers and facilities so patients feel comfortable using it in a range of scenarios, said Lygeia Ricciardi, chief transformation officer at the collaborative care platform Carium. Consumers, she noted, don’t need instruction manuals to drive different makes of automobiles.

It’s why the Cleveland Clinic now offers a “digital front door” so any patient can easily locate providers and telehealth options in one place. The idea, Boissy said, was to streamline and improve access to virtual care that once had 18 different online points of entry. Back then, process maps “looked like a traffic jam in New York City,” she said.

Telehealth providers also need to consider new ways to connect with patients. “Young people may not want to speak with somebody; they might want text services or to use Alexa in their living room,” said Dr. Jennifer Schneider, president of Livongo, a digital health startup. “Everyone has their own needs and life flow.”

2. Train Users in Advance and Have Technical Support on Call

Tailored outreach to communicate details of a telehealth visit is critical. Organizations can’t rely on a boilerplate email, said Emily Kagan Trenchard, vice president of digital and innovation strategy at Northwell Health. “Are instructions handed out to employees that just attach them as a PDF, or are they made specifically for that patient?” 

Some providers have spun up consumer-facing help desks to troubleshoot throughout the journey; those who don’t will struggle. “We need a new contact person — where’s the ‘digital Sherpa’?” said Grace Cordovano, a patient advocate and digital health consultant. “It’s not up to the doctor or the receptionist or the patient’s grandchild.”

At Banner Health, that advocacy often starts at the bedside. Hospitalized patients are taught onsite how to use Banner’s telehealth platform — knowledge that could help expedite a discharge and support virtual communication from home with providers in the days ahead, said Jim Roxburgh, the organization’s CEO for telehealth. 

READ MORE: The future of care delivery is here. Explore our complete coverage of telehealth and virtual care.

3. Support Online Interactions with Compassionate ‘Webside Manner’

Telehealth exchanges needn’t feel distant. Clinicians can convey empathy by acknowledging the divide, said Boissy, also a practicing neurologist, who has made small talk about a patient’s kitchen decor or keepsakes on display to break the ice. “This platform can be a beautiful entry into our patients’ lives,” she said.

Those connections go beyond pleasantries. Telehealth providers must consider users’ connectivity limitations and primary languages spoken at home to make the virtual visits comfortable for everyone, said Abner Mason, founder and CEO of ConsejoSano, a solution designed to help providers engage with multicultural patient populations. 

Even automated chatbots, which have risen in popularity to help diagnose and triage COVID-19 cases before contact with a human agent, should contain phrases that sound like more real-life dialogue — and even deliver empathetic replies if a user is sick or in pain. Text that says, “OK, great” after each completed prompt won’t cut it, Boissy noted.

4. Gather Feedback to Support the Evolution of Virtual Care

Organizations that quickly pivoted to expand virtual care must step back to assess their efforts. “In a disaster, you really didn’t have the time,” said Mandy Bell, e-care quality and innovation officer at Avera eCARE, noting that some of the hospitals her telehealth providers serves initially had staff running to Walmart and Best Buy to purchase iPad devices on the fly. 

And the work can’t just be internal. At the Cleveland Clinic, “we have hundreds and hundreds of patients who come on as HIPAA-trained volunteers” to test and shape the organization’s virtual care platform, Boissy said. “These are not focus groups, where you go once and you never come back. They’re co-designing with us at the hip.”

Design of landing pages and secure online forms, among other things tied to virtual care, must also be closely studied. “How do your menu structures work? What do people click on first?” said Trenchard, of Northwell. Even something as simple as a clickable icon instead of hyperlinked text can vastly improve user experience, she said.

Keep this page bookmarked for articles from the event. Follow us on Twitter @HealthTechMag as well as the official organization account, @AmericanTelemed, and join the conversation using the hashtags #ATA2020 and #GoTelehealth.

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