With Covid-19, there has been a flood of new healthcare solutions (virtual counseling), making more patients aware of its benefits and features. More advertising, more awareness, and more conversation have introduced telehealth to the general public, and that can only be a good thing for everyone. However, the question remains: How can we build patients’ trust in telehealth so that they will turn to them the next time they need medical care?
Possible contenders for understanding the dynamics may include different patient demographics or the fact that a proposed solution is easier to navigate in one practice than in another. Below are guidelines and tips for general health professionals who want to incorporate formalized telehealth into their practice.
1. Be the one to present the benefits of telehealth and start the conversation
I was talking to the vendor and asked: How did you set up telehealth so correctly and so quickly? He said I tell my patients they are crazy if they don’t use it. He talks to them about it in their rooms and makes it part of his counseling. He focuses on the benefits of telehealth for the patient, such as the convenience factor, the fact that they save time and money by not having to travel to their room. He mentions that he can usually extend same-day treatment for a lower fee, and often offers a free consultation on using his solution. He also notes that his patients, while aware of telehealth as a solution, begin to trust the service only after he introduces the topic.
2. Market your services
The challenge with telehealth is making sure patients know that health care providers actually offer it. It’s potentially quite time-consuming and I often see providers give up after a month or so, saying their patients aren’t interested. Most of the time, they didn’t even know they could use it.
However, the same patients continue to use WhatsApp and email – forms of telehealth, although not necessarily secure.
It is not uncommon for practices to have a one pager that they have designed with benefits for their patients on how to use it and this is a great place to include consultation rates. Patients like to have something tangible. Posting information on Facebook, LinkedIn and community circulars is also common practice. One very effective idea I’ve seen in action is a fridge magnet that contained important information about a telehealth solution. The patient could attach it to the refrigerator door, which was not only practical, but also a constant reminder that the healthcare provider offered this service in the first place.
3. Open conversation
This was great advice for providers….stay away from telemedicine jargon like “virtual care”. Rather, stick to more familiar phrases like “online appointment.” The idea is quite new, even if it is, adding technical words can Make this a light conversation with the patient so as not to leave them confused and wary of the new-fangled ideas and technologies that are emerging for many.
4. Facilitate questions
Bringing telehealth into 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 ready. Providers also post materials in their rooms inviting their patients to consult the staff about telehealth. When patients have the opportunity to ask about telehealth, especially with their trusted provider, they will feel much more comfortable. Make sure the telemedicine solution you choose can offer some kind of information sharing or training for employees.
5. Practical demonstration – show and tell
I like the idea of demonstrating my solution to my staff (and even patients). It shows that practice is involved. You can conduct a mock consultation with one of your front desk assistants and show how easy and effective a consultation can be. You can show them that it works. There is no better person to demonstrate to than you, and the more you practice, the more confident you will become.
6. Telehealth trade tools
I’ve seen telemedicine initiatives fail because patients were under the impression that they needed a desktop computer or the ultimate smartphone to access the solution. Reassure your patient that he probably has all the tools he needs and that it likely won’t cost him anything. Make sure your patients know what they need and that it doesn’t require any additional costs on their part. Most likely, they already have everything they need. There is often a perception that it is difficult and requires additional equipment. Demonstrating how easy it is will set the record straight.
When asked why one practice has a thriving telehealth initiative and another does not, provider intervention and involvement play a large role in success. Establishing a new solution, sitting back and waiting to see what happens will definitely not work. As with any good idea, people need to be told about it. The secret is to put yourself in the patient’s shoes. When you’re analyzing a new solution, think about it from their perspective. Once you’ve built patient trust in your telemedicine solution, you’ll wonder what you ever did without it.