Meeting New Needs and Improving Experiences Through Telehealth

online consultation with doctor

by Tom Swanson

posted on 05-04-2020

Telehealth is not new, but its adoption by healthcare providers and the general public has been slow. Aside from technological, clinical, and some regulatory barriers — low adoption numbers are typical because patients aren’t aware of the services or they are not comfortable with the idea of a virtual visit, and healthcare providers have been hesitant to lead the transition. However, that is changing now.

COVID-19 has resulted in customer demand for a change in healthcare provision from a high-touch low-volume model of care to a low-touch high-volume model. Healthcare providers and their partners must now adapt to this rapid influx of customers with new and varying demands.

Beyond telehealth, the truth is that the healthcare industry has been slow to embrace digital transformation, despite most industry members acknowledging that digital engagement is something that they will eventually have to adopt. That time to embrace digital innovation is now upon us as COVID-19 has proven to be the turning point, pushing digital engagement from a “nice to have” to an immediate and pressing requirement.

From now onwards, patients will expect that digital or virtual engagement with their doctor will become the new normal even after the crisis has passed. The reasons for this are twofold: healthcare consumers are expecting online self-service capabilities like they receive in other industries, and now they can’t get face-to-face access with providers or are unwilling to visit doctors’ offices or care facilities for fear of exposure to COVID-19. According to a recent study from Revive Health, 85% of healthcare consumers don’t know where they can go for day-to-day health concerns, and 50% are afraid to visit a care facility. Experts within the industry do not expect this to change. Patients’ expectations for digital healthcare is here to stay.

In recognition of the immediate need to adopt forms of digital engagement, the FCC has made over $200 million available to help healthcare providers acquire and deploy telehealth technology, and the HHS has eliminated regulations that prevented telehealth visits from being reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, many states are now waiving regulations that barred residents from using telehealth services of doctors in other states, thereby opening more access points to care for their residents. More details about these changes may be found in The Wall Street Journal.

Many U.S. health providers and retail pharmacies have telehealth capabilities now — in the form of email, online chat, texts, and phone calls, as well as synchronous two-way video and remote health monitoring. Telehealth takes many forms and can provide many basic day-to-day healthcare services.

Once telehealth technology and a delivery strategy are in place, the biggest barriers to use will be the lack of knowledge that the service exists and the lack of understanding or discomfort with how it all works. Simply “going live” isn’t enough to get the word out.

The good news is that healthcare consumers want and expect more directed and personalized communications with providers and other members of their care ecosystem. So, what is the best path forward? Below we provide some best practices on how to effectively market a telehealth program.

Open the digital front door

Reduce the barriers. To help patients get familiar with using telehealth services, healthcare providers are providing free consultations to triage and advise on COVID-19 cases to help determine which new and existing patients should stay home or come in for an in-facility visit. Telehealth services should be incorporated into a COVID-19 clinical workflow, similar to how some healthcare providers currently leverage telehealth for existing patients to advise on non-COVID-19 healthcare. Additionally, with shelter-in-place mandates, the need for behavioral health services via telehealth has never been greater.

Make it easy to use. Recraft websites to be a great experience. The right telehealth system will be an upgrade for a health services’ homepage and may be critical for new patient acquisition given customer expectations. Patients are seeking easy-to-understand, timely, and convenient healthcare options, and the right website and mobile app experience will enhance a healthcare brand. Retail pharmacies know all too well how digital friction reduces conversions. The goal is for patients to easily access their telehealth services just as easily as they can order a prescription refill.

Promote

Budgets are lean and resources are stretched, yet health providers can promote their telehealth services without breaking the bank. Health marketers should first focus on their owned media efforts such as email, social media, and web/mobile properties. These channels can be lower in cost, used quickly, and can reach a health system’s most engaged patients within their service area. Next, invest in paid media. It can take a bit more time to get ads and messages right, but it can be cost-effective to engage specific patient segments while extending reach. During the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare providers may want to reach out to key patient segments with relevant content and messaging to complement frontline efforts. Time your messaging to shift telehealth consultations from peak to low periods, and test digital marketing efforts to modify utilization patterns.

Track, track, track

Telehealth can be marketed online but unless providers properly track efforts against specific key performance indicators, they won’t know what is working. Digital marketing, thankfully, allows healthcare providers to know their programs’ effectiveness almost immediately. Start with basic clickstream data: impressions of ads and social media, clicks to the site, time on the site, and most visited webpages. Look at the most-used telehealth services and correlate bumps in usage to dollars spent on digital marketing efforts. Get more advanced by measuring cost-per-telehealth-consultation, and go deeper into how telehealth programs are impacting in-person patterns and facility utilization.

No time like the present

Health systems are valued and trusted institutions within their communities. They often have high brand recognition, and people expect their providers to lead in times like these. Right now, healthcare providers are managing the frontlines, but when the COVID-19 crisis subsides, it will be clear that educating and promoting telehealth within their service areas will be necessary to ensure patients feel they have a direct line to the healthcare system. COVID-19 has changed everyday life, from work to social interactions, and telehealth will be an expectation of patients. Health systems should fully embrace and take the next step forward to ensure their customers, their patients, and the communities know the full breadth of telehealth services available to them.

By pivoting quickly to the new demands consumers are placing on healthcare companies, these companies (and crucial service providers) will not only satisfy immediate and pressing needs, they will be establishing a digital foundation to better serve their customers and employees. Once the crisis has passed, they will be ready for the “new normal” of digital engagement as the primary business model.

Special thanks to Joel Ruane for his contributions to this article.

Topics: Healthcare, Personalization, COVID-19

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