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The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of things very quickly for a lot of people. How you get your groceries, the way you keep in touch with family and even how your kids attend school are impacted in a big way. 

One of the significant changes we've seen over the last year is how we receive medical care. Waiting in the car instead of the waiting room at your doctor's office, wearing masks during a checkup and even having appointments virtually over a video call have all become routine. In this time of increasing physical distance from one another, we are using digital technology to stay in touch with our doctors

I work with medical and technology experts as a digital client director for healthcare clients, but I'm also a parent of four kids, one with a chronic medical condition. I've seen many sides of the telehealth experience as a patient, parent and behind-the-scenes technology advisor. I've seen how telemedicine can be a fantastic convenience that connects you with your care providers at the touch of a button or a frustrating jumble of apps to navigate, website addresses to copy and seemingly endless digital forms that send your information into the ether.

What does it mean for a telehealth practice to be healthy? 

A healthy usage of digital technology in telehealth requires understanding the patient experience. Patients are also consumers and app users with high expectations for a telemedicine visit that is easy, understandable and without unnecessary friction.

As a patient going to Urgent Care or wanting a COVID test, I'm most interested in speed and simplicity. I want to provide the information needed quickly, but not via an overwhelming form that asks for more than what is required. I don't want to fill out paper forms using pens and clipboards that I haven't seen sanitized. I want to do things on my phone or verbally, and quickly, to get the care I need.

As a parent managing my daughter's chronic condition, I'm looking to collaborate with her doctor and care team to access and share the data coming from the sensors she wears and numerous apps she uses and looking for transparency around billing, insurance and prescriptions. I want her doctors to know us, to remember our decisions and to discover the trends in her health data quickly. I want my daughter to have the full benefits that technology can provide through digitally connected health information. 

What does an unhealthy telehealth practice look like? 

Have you ever spent time filling out an electronic intake form, only to be asked to repeat some of that information on paper and then again verbally with your doctor? This type of fragmented and frustrating experience is all too common. 

Hospital software systems are purchased over the years but are not fully integrated to share data. Hospital IT groups have traditionally been tasked with solving specific problems or streamlining a single customer experience, like scheduling an appointment. As each challenge becomes their critical focus, the IT group finds a platform that solves it, implements it and then attacks the next problem. Since these requests come in from many departments over many months or years, very little attention is paid to how all these disparate systems integrate with each other and with the Electronic Medical Records system. 

This piecemeal approach results in technology investments that don't consider the overall patient experience or even the provider experience. Patients and care providers are left to fill that gap, with all the duplication of effort and introduction of errors that entails.

During this pandemic, these problems are exacerbated as new systems are rushed into action to solve immediate issues like video visits without integrations to legacy health information. The front office staff is rushed into service as appointment makers when centralized call centers are disabled from sickness or reduced capacity for social distancing compliance. Nurses are asked to provide tech support and reach out to patients before their visit to explain the software. Patients are asked to remember three logins to complete their health information forms, have the video call with their doctor and get their prescriptions filled. 

There are so many friction points and opportunities to get frustrated and stuck.

How do we build a healthy telehealth experience? 

The first step is creating an effective digital strategy. Time spent understanding the technology possibilities and trends in healthcare and even across other consumer-facing service industries is key to creating a great experience. Modern mobile apps and platforms and fast-moving service industries like quick-serve restaurants and online retailers have helped create compelling and ever-changing consumer expectations. 

At WWT, we provide digital strategy services for customers across many industries, which gives us a broad perspective on consumer and patient expectations and behaviors. This background allows us to create concepts of future digital experiences that resonate. We leverage market research and human-centered design to develop and test these concepts. 

Digital strategies often involve evaluating the current technology in use and a build-vs.-buy analysis of relevant platforms and products that will help create the desired future experience. Many technology products exist that can be integrated into your current app or website rather than creating an entirely different user experience. Off-the-shelf products can be integrated to provide capabilities, like voice and video calling, that can be time-consuming to build and support. We have the advantage of our deep partnerships and integration expertise and leverage our Advanced Technology Center labs to evaluate technology integrations and ensure they meet customer experience and operational needs.

A tested digital strategy and an executable digital roadmap accelerate implementation and ensure that the digital telehealth experience is brought to market successfully and genuinely provides value to patients and providers.

While every digital strategy is uniquely tailored to the company, we see some common themes in frictionless telehealth experiences for patients and providers: 

  • Incremental signup – Allowing new customers to enter only the information needed at each step in the process, not asking for too much too quickly and not asking a patient to repeat effort along the way.
  • Single integrated experience – Having a single portal or app that gives patients access to all their care and medical data, helps them navigate when on-site and reminds them of appointments to create an easy-to-understand experience, requiring less technical support. A great example of this is the St. Jude app.
  • A single login – Sometimes one app isn't realistic. Having a Single Sign-On experience is a great way to remove friction in telemedicine, as patients navigate between apps for video visits and their patient portals.
  • Leverage notifications – Timely notifications of upcoming appointments, with clear actions for the patient to take, are critical to telemedicine visits that start on time. Notifications for post-visit follow-ups are a great way to collect needed data without provider intervention. Texting or app notifications are great mediums for this and fit into the behaviors patients are already doing.
  • Improve the care team experience – It's not just patients who experience the good and bad of telemedicine; it's true for care providers as well. Simplicity for the care team leads to clarity for the patient. Integrating appointment and contact data, so staff doesn't have to enter duplicate data, removes frustration and time from the visit. Allowing patients to schedule and change appointments using the app or even via text frees up time for the care team to provide excellent care to patients.
  • Integrate best in class technology – Healthcare providers have many options in today's software environment to help accelerate their capabilities: from voice and video platforms to artificially intelligent chat-bots, capable technology is vital.

Telehealth and the convenience and power of connecting digitally with your care team are here to stay, even once COVID-19 is under control. There's never been a better time to give your telehealth practice a checkup and make sure that the experience you're providing is as frictionless as possible and truly valuable to patients and care providers alike.

Give your telehealth practice a checkup.