Gain a Competitive Edge With Healthcare Consumers Through Telehealth
  • Gain a Competitive Edge With Healthcare Consumers Through Telehealth

    September 12, 2016


    Investing in telehealth technology can increase patient satisfaction, loyalty and engagement

    With out-of-pocket spending maximums reaching $6,850 per health plan member this year, healthcare consumers are increasingly demanding higher value for their dollars. That value often translates to convenience. For example, 61% of patients would switch providers to get a faster appointment and 52% would switch to obtain an appointment at a convenient location.

    Yet many hospitals and health systems are not making investments with consumer preferences in mind. As “anytime, anywhere” healthcare becomes more popular and patients play a more active role in choosing their care, it is vital for clinicians to be able to connect with their patients easier and with greater efficiency. To remain competitive, healthcare organizations are increasingly recognizing the necessity to invest and offer telehealth services to patients.

    Telehealth, namely web conferencing platforms that patients can conveniently access on any connected device, is becoming widely accepted by consumers, and also by health insurers and governments, which makes it more financially viable for clinicians. This can result in higher satisfaction levels among consumer-minded patients looking for care quality, service and convenience.

    Satisfying Healthcare Consumers

    This consumer mindset can influence more than just how consumers feel about the institution’s service. For instance, a survey found that patients who waited 33 minutes to see their physician gave their provider a one-star out of five rating, while patients who waited less than 13 minutes awarded the full five stars. Similarly, patients who had the shortest wait times were likely to “highly recommend” their physician, and label them “friendly,” “kind” and “caring.”

    Telehealth delivered through web conferencing can meet consumer demands for service quality and convenience, especially since 80% of Americans now have broadband access at home or through a mobile device. Positive consumer sentiment regarding telehealth is also expanding demographically. Consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that consumers 35 years old and older make up nearly half of the patients who have accessed care through telehealth, while familiarity among that group increased by 14%.

    A separate study of patients with chronic conditions found that more than 57% were interested in Internet-based telehealth. This particular study is noteworthy in that it suggests a major telehealth opportunity exists for healthcare organizations to help patients with chronic conditions adhere to their care plans through telehealth check-ups that do not require a physical exam. In fact, one analysis estimates that as many as 75% of office visits are unnecessary or do not need to be in-person.

    Consumer-focused Features and Functionality

    Beyond convenience and service, the web conferencing experience itself needs to be satisfying as well, which means considering the technology’s features and functionality. For example, a simple log-in process to access a telehealth encounter with a clinician is likely to be preferred. Cloud-based telehealth platforms can offer simplicity to both patients and providers by eliminating the need to download special software or re-configure their existing systems.

    Once logged-in, if there is a wait before the online encounter begins, having a waiting room clock that counts down the time or plays educational videos while the patient waits is a very consumer-focused feature, and elevates it above the in-person waiting room experience.

    The actual web conferencing encounter can be enhanced to be more consumer friendly if the technology is able to deliver high-definition video and audio performance. Higher quality video and audio can improve the clarity of communication and the overall experience. In addition, robust annotation tools that can securely display patient prescriptions, charts and x-rays can further help enrich the interaction, thus elevating the care quality, which is also a significant satisfaction booster among consumers.

    Protecting data exchanged during telehealth encounters is also crucial. Although consumers are becoming less concerned about the privacy and security of their medical records, a breach of their protected health information can destroy trust and the overall experience. With that said, healthcare organizations will likely want to look for web conferencing technology with end-to-end encryption using SSL/TLS protocol and the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256. Private-cloud options, offered by preferred web conferencing platforms, can further enhance security during telehealth encounters.

    Meeting Patients on Their Terms

    While healthcare consumer preferences are important to consider, telehealth can simultaneously help organizations confront the impending provider shortage challenge. For example, as many as 90,000 additional physicians will be needed by 2025 to satisfy patient demand. When there are fewer providers available, patients typically need to wait longer both for an appointment and in the waiting room, prompting them to seek care elsewhere.

    Progressive health systems can embrace the consumerist mentality and the impending physician shortage by investing in secure telehealth technology. Not only can providers deliver high-quality care in less time, they can also increase patient satisfaction, drive long-term loyalty and engagement — supporting the health system’s competitive edge.

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