With Covid-19, came a flood of new telehealth (virtual consultation) healthcare solutions, exposing more patients to its benefits and features. More publicity, more awareness and more conversations have introduced telehealth to a wider audience, and it can only be beneficial for everyone. The question remains, however: how do you create this confidence in telehealth for a patient, so that they turn to it the next time they need health care?
1. Be the one to talk about the benefits of telehealth and start the conversation.
I was in conversation with a provider and I asked him: How did you manage to get telehealth so well and so quickly? He said, I tell my patients they’re crazy if they don’t use it. He talks to them about it in his rooms and makes it part of his consultation. It focuses on the benefits of telehealth for the patient, such as the convenience factor, that they save time and money by not having to drive to their rooms. He mentions that he can usually extend same-day care, charging less, and often gives free advice on using his solution. He also notices that his patients, although generally aware of telehealth as a solution, do not begin to trust the service until after he introduces the topic.
2. Market your service
The problem with telehealth is letting patients know that health care providers actually offer it. This potentially takes a long time and I often see a provider give up after a month or so, saying their patients weren’t interested. Most of the time, they didn’t even know they could use it.
However, these same patients continue to use WhatsApp and email – forms of telehealth although not necessarily secure.
It’s not uncommon for practices to have a pager that they’ve designed with the benefits for their patients, how to use it, and it’s a great place to include consultation fees. Patients like to have something tangible. Placing information on Facebook, LinkedIn and municipal circulars is also common practice. One very effective idea that I have seen in practice is a fridge magnet that held the vital information about the telehealth solution. The patient could tie it to his refrigerator door, not only was it convenient, but it was also a constant reminder to him that the health care provider offered such a service in the first place.
3. Speak clearly
That was great advice for providers … stay away from telehealth jargon like “virtual care”. Instead, stick to more well-known expressions such as “online meeting”. Make it an easy conversation with the patient, so as not to leave them confused and suspicious of what is for many new ideas and technologies.
4. Facilitate questions
Including the mention of telehealth in the conversation is one thing, but then you need to encourage your patients to ask questions, so you and your staff need to have the answers at hand. Providers have also put equipment in their rooms, inviting their patients to speak to their staff about telehealth. When patients have the opportunity to ask questions about telehealth, especially with their trusted provider, they will feel much more comfortable about it. Make sure that the telehealth solution you choose can offer some form of information sharing or training for staff members.
5. Practical demonstration – show and tell
I like the idea of demonstrating your solution to your staff (and even your patients). It shows that the practice is involved. You can do a mock consultation with one of your reception assistants and show how simple and effective a consultation can be. You are able to show them that it works. There is no better person to show you off and the more you practice, the more confident you will become.
6. Tools of the telehealth profession
I saw a telehealth initiative fail because patients felt they needed a high-end desktop or smartphone to access the solution. Reassure your patient that they likely have all the tools they need and that it will likely not require any expense on their part. Make sure your patients know what they need and that it probably doesn’t require any additional expense on their part. Chances are they already have everything they need. There is often a perception that this is complex and requires additional equipment. Demonstrating how easy it is will set the record straight.
In answering the question of why one practice has a successful telehealth initiative and another does not, provider involvement and involvement plays an important role in success. Installing a new solution, sitting around and waiting to see what happens, is doomed to failure. Like any good idea, you need to tell people about it. The secret is to put yourself in the patients’ shoes. When you analyze a new solution, think about it from their perspective. Once you instill patient confidence in your telehealth solution, you will wonder what you could have done without it.