Telehealth has exploded during the current COVID-19 crisis, building upon incremental growth and adoption in recent years. As patients look for safe ways to receive care, digital technology has grown in acceptance by both consumers and providers. And from the boost in visits, telehealth appears to be fulfilling its promise as a significant part of the patient journey.
While virtual visits are growing in popularity, health systems must realize that telehealth isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. For telehealth to remain relevant, providers need to focus on appointments that can be resolved successfully through a telehealth visit. Otherwise, they risk alienating patients who may view virtual care as an unnecessary and costly step when their telehealth appointment results in a required follow-up office visit.
Here are four appointments types that are right for virtual visits, which you should consider as part of your telehealth strategy.
Unexpected Illness While Traveling
Getting sick or injured is never fun, but it's especially miserable while you are traveling. What's worse is receiving a large medical bill when you get back home. For minor medical issues like strep throat or a sprain, turning to a telehealth visit could be the best option for patients. In fact, 64% of patients between the ages of 50 and 80 said they would be interested in a telehealth visit for an unexpected illness while traveling.
With most healthcare providers now offering telehealth services, patients could easily schedule a video consultation with their doctor via smartphone, computer, or tablet. Not to mention, the cost of an in-network telehealth visit would be less expensive than that of an out-of-network visit. Even more important, for healthcare providers this means that patients won't prolong an illness that could potentially become acute.
Telehealth follow-ups offer a convenient and efficient channel to deliver post-visit care. In fact, 58% of patients between the ages of 50 and 80 said they'd be interested in using it for a return visit after seeing a provider in person for an issue. The use of real-time, synchronous audio/video communication enables providers to conduct appointments remotely without the patient having to come back into the office. Add in remote low-tech patient monitoring, such as patient-reported glucose or blood pressure readings, to make the visit even more meaningful and efficient.
Offering virtual follow-up care to patients can help ensure they keep necessary appointments, continue their care plan determined in the initial visit, and avoid the hospital whenever possible. This means reduced hospital readmissions, better care coordination, and improved patient outcomes.
Similarly, patients can end up back in the hospital after a minor surgery or procedure if they didn't have access to appropriate follow-up care. In fact, 55% of patients between the ages of 50 and 80 said they would be interested in utilizing telehealth for a one-time follow-up appointment after surgery. Virtual postoperative care can remotely identify early complications such as pain, swelling or redness at the incision site, or a general decline in health. This post-op touchpoint enhances the quality of recovery in the early postoperative period and can improve long-term postoperative outcomes as well as enhance the acute postoperative patient experience.
Additionally, according to a recent study that documented the value of telehealth in postoperative care, researchers noted that it "demonstrated excellent clinical outcomes, enhanced patient satisfaction, increased accessibility along with reduced wait times, and cost savings for patients and health care systems."
Mental Health Concerns
The pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of people around the world and that toll will continue for the foreseeable future. Telehealth can provide mental health patients with the flexibility and efficiency that normally doesn't exists when it comes to in-person therapy visits. With a lower barrier to entry, telehealth eliminates the stress and frustration of travel, waitlists, and waiting rooms. It gives patients the time and space to accomplish so much more in their day between other appointments, meetings, chores, and activities – not to mention the benefit of staying in the safety of their homes.
Telehealth also allows for maximum flexibility for overworked or overcommitted patients. It's easy to put off therapy when sessions are offered during limited office hours, while many people are at work or school. With virtual visits, a therapist is more easily available and can schedule short-notice appointments. This offers greater flexibility and encourages more people to seek the right support when they need it most.
While mental health appointments are arguably the best type to utilize telehealth, patient willingness is mixed across age groups. While millennials are three times as likely to use telehealth to address mental health concerns, older generations are still reluctant to do this. In fact, only 28% of patients between the ages of 50 and 80 are interested in utilizing telehealth for a mental health concern. This could be based on privacy issues or fear of someone at home hearing them. 70 percent of behavioral health providers stated they plan to continue offering telehealth services post-pandemic; however, they must address this reluctance for telehealth to work long-term for all mental health patients.
Careful consideration is needed to determine which of your appointment types are best to transition to virtual care. Once your health system has made that decision, you must implement an effective patient-centered telehealth strategy that healthcare consumers will utilize and benefit from. To learn how your health system can create a positive virtual patient experience, download our Telehealth Executive Guide.