How Can You Improve the Telemedicine Experience?
KELLY H. BUCHHEIT, CPA
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the use of telemedicine to the forefront, a trend that will likely continue going forward. However, both physicians and patients have expressed some ambivalence about how successful telemedicine has been for them. Consider the following ways to help improve the telemedicine experience at your practice.
Related Read: Get Ready for Your Closeup: Embrace Telehealth
Keep it simple
Many people who had never used any kind of videoconferencing technology — whether FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet or others — found themselves using a tech platform regularly during the pandemic with mixed results.
Many older patients initially struggled with telemedicine, but do not assume that they lack the skills to get comfortable using it. A 2021 Pew Research Center study, Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet, found that from 2000 to 2021, the number of Internet users aged 65 and older increased from 14% to 75%. So, older folks are spending plenty of time online and, presumably, growing accustomed to videoconferencing by now.
Make sure that you determine the best platform for your practice, focusing on ease of use, reliability and security for both your patients and staff. A good way to start is to survey patients and find out whether they are comfortable using your current platform or if they would prefer a different one.
It is also a good idea to generate familiar workflows. Most patients are accustomed to a specific workflow for a physician visit — including check-in, triage, physician visit, nurse summary and check-out. Although it may be unnecessary to duplicate this workflow exactly, having a similar structure in a telemedicine visit can create familiarity and efficiency.
A key part of this process is to prepare your patients for virtual visits. Many physicians have found that, unlike when patients drive to their offices and sit in their waiting rooms, patients are rarely prepared for a telemedicine visit. Instead, they are squeezing it in between homeschooling children or conducting work and/or home business. Educating patients on the best ways to conduct a telehealth visit prior to their appointment can help minimize patient conflicts and improve the patient experience.
Similarly, be respectful of your patients’ time. If you are running late, have your office contact the patient to let them know and tell them when they can expect you to be available.
Make it convenient
It is essential to clearly communicate the services that you can offer via telemedicine and be straightforward about the limitations. Do not hesitate to end a session and call for an in-office visit if it becomes obvious that one is required under the circumstances.
Set a timer and keep appointments short. Tell the patient how much time has been allotted for the session and remind him or her when the session is almost over. Also, check your technology before the visit to make sure that your location is well-lit with few, if any, distractions. It may also be helpful to send an email to the patient before the visit that gives specific instructions for accessing the virtual patient room and what to expect during the appointment.
During the visit, speak slowly and clearly, and make sure that your patients can see your mouth to improve visual input. Remember to make sure that you are looking at the camera—not the screen view—when speaking to the patient. Also, establish what is being dubbed as a “webside manner,” which might be a bit different from your bedside manner.
As you are wrapping up the appointment, verify that you have addressed the patient’s priorities, plan for a follow-up and allow him or her to ask questions. You also might want to let the patient end the call rather than ending it yourself — if time allows.
Get in on the benefits
The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the use of many technologies in medical practices. To fully benefit from telemedicine, be proactive in ensuring that you are implementing it in ways that will improve patient care and profitability moving forward.
Setting the Tone: Make Sure That Your Website Reflects Well on Your Practice
LARRY SOPHIAN, CPA, MBA
For a medical practice in 2021, a website is no longer an option — it is a requirement. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only made it imperative for physicians to create ways to see patients virtually instead of in-person, but also placed increasing emphasis on the practice website as an essential information source.
As the pandemic (hopefully) ebbs in the months ahead, these changes will remain key — in fact, many are likely to become permanent features of medical practice. Many best practices for all websites, such as search engine optimization practices, hold true regardless of the profession involved. But, medical practice websites require some specialized features to ensure effectiveness.
Related Read: Keep the Patients Coming
It is important to ensure that your practice website is regularly updated and does not display inaccurate information, dated photographs or old-fashioned design elements. The site does not need to be flashy or have the latest bells and whistles, such as interactive graphics, because technological showiness might not fit your practice’s culture or be worth the money spent. In fact, depending on the type of practice, such showiness may turn off at least a portion of your patients.
Your website needs to reflect your practice and philosophy — and it needs to be easy to use. A website is often prospective and can be a critical part of forming new patients’ first impressions of you and your practice, and it can help set the tone for patient relationships going forward.
Another essential best practice is to enable users to easily find the most important information. For example, prospective patients want to know whether you are accepting new patients. They want to know if you accept their insurance and what types of health care issues your practice focuses on. It is better to have such information front and center rather than on a hard-to-find frequently asked questions (FAQ) page.
In addition, patients — as well as Google’s search algorithms — appreciate a website that works just as well on a mobile device as it does on a computer. Thus, a critical best practice is to include your phone number and a map showing your location on the home page of your website. And, if visitors can initiate a call by simply tapping the number, all the better.
Also, keep in mind how people typically use their mobile devices. That is, they often look for information on weekends or while watching TV in the evenings, when your office may be closed or its hours are limited. Make it easy for visitors to leave messages — whether it be voicemails or emails.
More advanced functions
Many physician practices connect their websites to their patient portals so that patients, current and new, can easily schedule an appointment via the portal. This is an excellent service for a medical practice to offer.
In addition, your website can, and should, make forms available online so that patients can fill them out ahead of time. If you do not want automated, interactive forms, you can offer PDFs that patients can download, print and complete before they come to their appointment. Make certain that your site is appropriately protected to minimize the risk that medical information gets hacked.
Another good resource that you can make available on your site is patient information sheets in PDF form. These can include recommendations for at-home exercises, nutrition guides or overviews of various common illnesses or disorders.
As a personal touch, many practices include physician headshots and bios on their websites. These should look and read professionally, portraying practitioners as warm and competent. You could also incorporate photographs of physicians and staff interacting, either with each other or with patients (as long as the scenes depicted are appropriate for public viewing and you obtain each patient’s permission). As noted above, make sure that these are kept current.
Nowadays, a website might be the single most-used way for patients to access information about your practice. And people tend to form opinions about a website’s visual appeal very quickly — so you do not have much time to make a good first impression. Many consumers will even make judgments about a medical practice’s credibility based on its website design.
Ensuring your website reflects all the things you want patients to think and feel about your practice will increase the likelihood that current patients will stay with you long-term — and that you will attract new patients as well.
Sidebar: Use marketing techniques on your website to attract and retain patients
Many medical practice websites are designed to focus on the physicians and staff rather than to encourage potential and current patients to book appointments. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but what patients really want to know is “what is in it for them.”
Leveraging a type of direct-response marketing, some physician websites provide pertinent information about specific illnesses or treatments free to visitors in the form of videos, ebooks or “cheat sheets.” In return, these websites ask for contact details that will enable someone in the practice to follow up with site visitors via text, email or phone.
The idea behind this marketing technique is to show both potential and current patients that your practice provides added value. It also encourages them to make appointments to help treat whatever health problem prompted them to seek out information from your site in the first place.