In this Telehealth Feature Series, we’re going to cover the long list of potential telehealth features available today. As you’re considering your own approach to telehealth, we will provide you a look at all the possible features telehealth companies are offering on the market. Plus, we’ll offer our insight into the nuances of each feature so you can select the right telehealth company or companies you use. Not all telehealth is created equal, so taking the time to understand all the possible features and options is worth the effort.
The next feature we’re going to cover is Patient Technical On-boarding.
You might be wondering why patient technical on-boarding is on our list of telehealth features to cover as part of our telehealth feature series. It turns out that the features your telehealth vendor offers to onboard a patient for a telehealth visit really matters. Let me share an example of the horror stories that happen when patient technical on-boarding isn’t done properly for a telehealth visit.
While most of us have now figured out how to connect a video connection in our daily lives, connecting to Skype or Facetime is different than connecting to most telehealth solutions. In fact, in many consumer cases, Skype or Facetime is calling you and you just have to answer. In every telehealth solution I’ve seen, the patient is the one that has to click to connect to the telehealth visit. That means the impetus to join the telehealth appointment is largely on the patient and many are not as tech savvy as we’d like.
What happens when things go wrong when trying to connect? The patient quickly gets frustrated and gives up. In many cases, they’re giving up because they don’t have enough tech knowledge to try anything else. As a techguy myself, I have 100 ways in my bag of tricks to try and connect (different web browsers, accept permissions, check the firewall blocking it, different computer, etc etc etc), but most people click on the link provided and if they hit a wall they don’t know what else to do and give up. Needless to say, the patient not being able to connect is extremely frustrating to the patient since almost no one schedules a doctor’s appointment when there’s not a need for the appointment. Plus, the doctor suffers as well as now that slot goes empty.
How then should a telehealth vendor approach patient technical onboarding. In a recent interview I did in our EHR Telehealth Series, one EHR vendor pointed out how they tried to use the patient portal to manage telehealth visits. While you can kind of see the thinking of where they were going with this (ie. authenticated patient, existing login, etc), it’s no surprise that they quickly saw this as a failed strategy and they had to create a much simpler, yet secure way for a patient to be able to connect to their telehealth visit without needing to know their portal login and password which no doubt many have forgotten.
Another strategy I’ve seen that has largely been a fail is the mobile app. As we mentioned previously in our discussion of web based vs app based telehealth, most patients don’t want to download a new app in order to connect to a telehealth visit. If you’re offering a direct to consumer telehealth option that’s used regularly, the app can work. However, for most patients who only see their provider for emergent issues, downloading an app for a telehealth visit will cause a lot of issues for your healthcare organization and the patient.
What’s interesting is that most telehealth companies understand the problem of patient technical onboarding is real and they’re trying to avoid this issue altogether. This generally comes in the form of a simple link that patients can click to join the telehealth visit whether they’re on the desktop or a mobile device. I haven’t seen any hard numbers on this, but it seems that the majority of people connecting to telehealth are able to manage the rest of the technical issues they run into with this approach. Certainly a few will have local issues, but for the most part this type of simplistic approach to connecting patients to their telehealth visit has proven effective.
The other key component to successful patient technical on-boarding for a telehealth visit is in your messaging. The good news is that if you take the simple link based approach to telehealth, it doesn’t take much. Although, many include some simple tutorials in their messaging that can make a patient feel more comfortable with what’s needed to connect. The same is true on the page where patients connect. Having good information there which can answer the common questions is key.
One novel approach to the patient telehealth technical on-boarding I heard about came from Stericycle Communication Solutions. For some of their customers, they’ve leveraged their call centers to call out to patients before a telehealth visit and make sure that the patient is ready technically to connect to the visit. It’s a pretty smart strategy since it’s much cheaper for a call center support person to do the tech troubleshooting with the patient than say the doctor or nurse as they see their schedule fall behind. Plus, over time patients who have done a previous telehealth issue won’t need a call. So, the cost of calling patients will fall as well.
When evaluating telehealth companies, it’s definitely worth testing what the patient technical on-boarding experience is like. Don’t test it on your doctor’s latest iPhone. Instead, find your grandma’s phone or desktop and see how she does connecting on her likely older equipment. That will tell you a lot about how well your patient telehealth experience will be.