Boost Telehealth Adoption Rates: Three Steps Forward

It’s routine today. “There’s an app for that.” We use our smartphones to hail a ride to the airport, order takeout or buy just about anything. In healthcare, this kind of innovation happens much more slowly, and adoption of new technologies can be glacial-like. Take telehealth; please!

The Advisory Board reports that 77 percent of patients are willing to use virtual care, and 90 percent of patients feel no obligation to stay with a provider that does not offer virtual care. Though they know they could save money, time and hassle by using virtual visits, only 19 percent have taken advantage of their provider’s telehealth offerings.

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So what gives? What’s holding patients back from giving telehealth a try? What are the barriers? One big reason virtual care has not taken off as predicted is many patients are unaware the service is available. That’s an opportunity for healthcare systems to increase awareness, educate patients about the benefits of using telehealth and make it easy for them to try telehealth. Consider these three steps to boost telehealth adoption:

  • Build awareness with communications and marketing. Clinicians are one of the most trusted sources of health information. Patients are far more likely to give telehealth services a try if they hear about it from a healthcare professional. Patients with chronic conditions are almost twice as likely to use virtual care if the primary physician recommends it, according to recent Advisory Board report. Prompts from insurance companies and employers also can drive adoption. That means creating buy-in from all these constituencies.

Tech savvy consumers are the most likely patients to try telehealth. Social media and targeted digital campaigns are the most effective ways to reach these audiences. Digital marketing also allows you to target specific groups, such as female patients within a certain age group or geography.

The best kind of marketing is word of mouth. Patients who have had a positive experience with telehealth will tell their friends and family about it. Make it easy for patients to share their enthusiasm. Send them feedback forms and online surveys, and make it easy for them to post to their social networks.

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It’s often easy to forget traditional forms of advertising and marketing. In-office posters and pamphlets are still effective at driving patients to use virtual and other new care delivery platforms. Direct mail and other forms of community advertising also can help support the behavior change.

  • Address concerns about quality of care. While 85 percent of patients say they want and expect virtual care access, many of them have not used it because of concerns about the quality of care they might receive. However, studies have proven that the quality of virtual care visits compares favorably to in-office visits. And patients who have used telehealth services often give extremely high satisfaction marks.

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One effective way to boost patient satisfaction in telehealth is to link their care to providers they’re comfortable with. Patients may worry that they’ll receive care from a stranger or someone unqualified. By linking telehealth with their primary care doctor, patients are assured that any follow-up visits for their current condition can be handled. Assuring them that their care will be provided by their own doctor or another clinician within their trusted network builds patient confidence.

  • Treat every patient interaction as an opportunity for engagement. Beyond the obvious forms of marketing, some of the best ways to get patients to try telehealth are more grassroots. Marketing provides a few, dedicated channels for patient communications, while opportunities within the organization are numerous — and many are free.

Administrative staff often are the first point of contact between a healthcare provider and a patient. The scheduler or person taking the call can suggest the patient seek virtual care rather than waiting to come into the office. Call center employees also can recommend telehealth. Once a patient is in the office, the person checking them in or out can recommend telehealth the next time the patient needs care. It’s also a great opportunity to hand patients pamphlets or other printed materials promoting the use of virtual care.

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A recommendation to try telehealth from a healthcare professional — medical assistants and nurses — carries great weight. That recommendation comes naturally if the patient is seeing the doctor for a condition or symptoms that could be addressed easily through virtual care, like a cold or ear ache.

Having a smart telehealth strategy is increasingly essential. Success depends on more than simply building a virtual care platform and expecting patients to come. Educating and encouraging clinicians and patients to use virtual care can improve outcomes, increase provider loyalty, reduce clinician burnout and add a boost to the bottom line. No money, no mission.

The gap between those who are willing to use telehealth and those who have actually taken advantage of it can be closed by strategic marketing and good communication. Learn more about how smart, strategic communications drive change by visiting our website: www.blmpr.com

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