To what extent will telehealth remain the dominant force in health care after the end of the pandemic? This will depend significantly on the way investment providers invest in existing and new digital tools that will enable physicians and patients to build and maintain relationships with trust.
Although virtual visits accounted for approximately 70% of total visits to the United States in the early stages of the outbreak, their level dropped to about 30% before the end of autumn. In this regard, it is safe to assume that telehealth will not return to its pre-pandemic level, when it was used by only 8% of Americans. This is because, although there will still be barriers to adoption – such as regulations, insurance and conditions requiring personal care, the behavior and expectations of service providers and patients will change. But the degree to which they will do so will depend on improving the experience for both groups.
It will require supplier organizations to invest in tools that are sensitive to human feelings. That is certainly possible. In fact, some providers have already started doing it, and startups are starting to appear that offer solutions. Here are three ways in which telehealth technologies can humanize the virtual care experience for both service providers and patients.
Make a strong first impression
It’s no secret that first impressions matter. We need milliseconds to make quick judgments. We also tend to resist news as we get older. Naturally, we can assume that doctors and patients – especially those who have not used telehealth before – will be skeptical about its adoption. So, the more convincing the first impression these tools make, the more likely patients and doctors are to deal with them.
When technology is used, first impressions are informed by the effort required to complete the tasks (compared to the alternative) and the immediate satisfaction it provides. Models in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and economics show that people like to avoid effort. Studies like Mischel’s experiment with marshmallow have also shown that we are more inclined to choose immediate, rather than delayed gratification.
Imagine a platform that greets doctors with a warm message about their upcoming meeting with a particular patient. The message may contain key insights into the patient file and the reason for her visit. When they begin a visit, a digital advice sheet may appear to highlight friendly reminders of virtual care best practices (e.g., maintain eye contact, ask personal questions to meet the patient) and the types and methods of diagnosis that can be made for a successful visit. Once they meet a certain measure of successful telehealth visits, they could be rewarded with an invitation to an exclusive seminar.
Customizing and scheduling the scheduling process could leave a big initial impression on patients. If they complete a short quiz based on applications to understand their needs and concerns before scheduling a visit, the friction around finding the right doctor will be alleviated. Providing a simple, clear online assessment of what their insurance will cover and what their responsibilities will be before scheduling a visit will give them the satisfaction of making financially sound health decisions.
Care organizations and startups have already developed tools like these. For example, the One Medical 1 technology ecosystem provides physicians with a summary of patient care history and context-based care suggestions, as well as access to its comprehensive electronic health record. In NYU Langone, where I work, virtual appointments are booked through Epic’s online patient portal MyChart, which provides physicians with access to all patient clinical information. Bright.md offers a “virtual doctor’s assistant” platform that helps patients find the right care in less than two minutes by answering a basic clinical questionnaire that asks questions based on individual patient’s answers. Waystar uses predictive analytics and other advanced software to help patients understand how much their insurance plans will cover and what their costs will be before they move on to an appointment.
Build active engagement and a meaningful relationship
Technology directs the way we live our lives and communicate with each other. But it rarely repeats the nuances and beauty of human connection, and this deficiency poses a significant problem in health care. Service providers take care of their patients and provide them with the best possible care. Patients want to be listened to, understood and comforted.
Therefore, it is important to have tools that facilitate high-quality care and help patients feel that they are treated as people, not statistics. There are two teeth that need to be understood in achieving this: active engagement and meaningful connection. The first requires tools to encourage patients to take actions that improve the way they manage their own care and encourage service providers to provide care more effectively. The latter requires tools to be able to understand and anticipate the needs of these groups so that they can help strengthen patient-provider relationships outside of the transactional service.
Active patient engagement can be, for example, an application-based inquiry to confirm their symptoms and communicate concerns to service providers on the day of the visit, or a friendly text message with a link to join the visit a few minutes before the start. For service providers, it can look like a virtual assistant that reminds doctors to monitor patients, depending on the outcome and treatment plan of a particular visit.
A meaningful connection can be achieved with software based on artificial intelligence. For example, AI-based speech recognition software could monitor a patient’s speech during a visit to identify potential conditions affecting the human voice, such as asthma, before the doctor or patient even knows it.
Kencor Health SAMi Digital Assistant is one example of a solution that reminds patients to regularly measure their vital functions and keep them engaged in their treatment plans, and automatically shares data with their care team. Healthymize is an artificial intelligence-based voice monitoring solution that turns smart devices into devices for remote monitoring of patients with diseases such as asthma and pneumonia.
Pour confidence and ensure safety
Insecurity and fear are primordial emotions. We are prone to ambiguity and we tend to give priority to what we know to what we do not know. We are also afraid of incurring a loss and assess risk based on perceived control that we think we have overcomes. Clinicians want to know with certainty that their diagnoses, prognoses, and treatments are based on evidence-based practice. Patients want to be confident in the expertise of their service providers, that their advice will cure and not endanger them, and that they will keep their information confidential.
Telehealth tools can solve such problems. For example, virtual assistants could listen to the dialogue between the provider and the patient and search digital clinical guidance libraries to find the latest evidence-based practices related to the patient’s condition and summarize key findings to help service providers provide well-informed advice. . Not requiring service providers to do this research manually would allow them to focus on their interactions with the patient.
The use of remote and wearable devices could help physicians measure the health indicators of their patients. After the visit, virtual assistants could prepare simple, comprehensive summaries of what was discussed, recommended treatments, and relevant research articles that physicians could review. After doctors reviewed this material, patients were able to obtain this content through an encrypted messaging system, which will provide them with the security that it provides them with professional help and that their data is protected.
Some startups are already engaging in these activities. For example, Notable uses wearable technology to collect outcomes reported by patients. Zignifica is a software system that analyzes and interprets information and data presented in medical records to provide physicians with evidence-based practices. Heal sends a service summary that is HIPAA compliant to patients within 24 hours of service.
Telehealth, of course, can never replace the interaction between patient and caregiver. But as experience has shown during a pandemic, it can improve the convenience and quality of care. However, its future adoption largely depends on its ability to support a relationship of trust between patients and physicians. As service organizations choose telehealth technologies, and digital healthcare companies develop new tools, they must keep the basic human needs of both patients and physicians in front of them and at the center.