6 steps to create patient trust in telehealth
With Covid-19 came a flood of new telehealth (virtual consultation) healthcare services, exposing more patients to its benefits and features. More advertising, more awareness and more conversations have introduced telehealth to a wider audience, and this can only be good for everyone. However, the question remains, how do we create this trust in telehealth for a patient, so that they turn to it the next time they need health care?
Possible challengers to understanding the dynamics may include different patient demographics, or the fact that the solution offered is easier to navigate in one practice than another. The following are recommendations and tips, for healthcare personnel in general, who wish to incorporate formalized telehealth into their practice.
1. Be the one to introduce the benefits of telehealth and start the conversation
I was in conversation with a supplier, and asked: How did you get telehealth so right, 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 he makes it part of his consultation. 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 drive to his rooms. He mentions that he can generally extend care on the same day, while charging them less, and often provides a free consultation to use his solution. He also notes that his patients, while generally aware of telehealth as a solution, only begin to trust the service after he introduces the topic.
2. Promote your service
The problem with telehealth is getting patients to know that healthcare providers actually offer it. It potentially takes a good amount of time, and I often see a provider give up after a month or so, saying their patients weren’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’s not uncommon for practices to have a pager that they’ve designed with the benefits for their patients, how to use it, and it’s a great place to include consulting rates. Patients like to have something tangible. Placing information on Facebook, LinkedIn and joint circulars is also common practice. A very effective idea I have seen in practice is a fridge magnet that contained important information about the telehealth solution. The patient could attach it to their refrigerator door, not only was it convenient, it also served as a constant reminder that the healthcare provider offered such a service in the first place.
3. Plain talk
This was a good provider tip…stay away from the telehealth jargon, like “virtual care”. Instead, stick to better-known phrases such as “online agreement”. The idea is new enough as it is, throwing in tech talk can make it an easy conversation with the patient, so as not to leave them confused and wary of what for many are newfangled ideas and technology.
4. Facilitate questions
Including mention of telehealth in 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 approach staff about telehealth. When patients have the opportunity to ask about telehealth, especially from their trusted provider, they are going to feel much more comfortable with it. Make sure the telehealth solution you choose can offer some form of information sharing or training for employees.
5. Practical demonstration – show and tell
I love the idea of demonstrating your solution with staff (and even patients). It shows that the practice is involved. You can have a dummy consultation with one of your reception assistants and show how simple and effective a consultation can be. You can show them that it works. There is no better person to demonstrate than you, and the more you practice, the more confident you will become.
6. Tools for the telehealth profession
I have seen a telehealth initiative fail because patients were under the impression that they needed a desktop computer, or a smartphone to access the solution. Reassure your patient that they likely have all the tools they need and that it more than likely won’t require any outlay from them. Make sure your patients know what they need and that it likely won’t require additional outlay on their part. Chances are, they already have everything they need. There is often a perception that this is complex and requires additional equipment. Demonstrating how easy it is will set the record straight.
In answering the question of why one practice has a thriving telehealth initiative and another does not, provider intervention and participation play a major role in its success. Installing a new solution, sitting back and waiting to see what happens is bound to fail. Like any good idea, you have to tell people about it. The secret is to put yourself in the patient’s shoes. When analyzing a new solution, think about it from their point of view. Once you’ve instilled patient trust in your telehealth solution, you’ll wonder what you ever did without it.