When you envision the phrase “patient experience,” the most likely image is a patient sitting in a doctor’s office. Yet, patient experience encompasses so much more than that; it starts from the moment the patient schedules an appointment.
(To enhance the interactions between patients and your practice and improve patient experience from the start, RingCentral is currently offering RingCentral Office free of charge.)
During times of increased healthcare demand, telehealth services can play an important role in improving patient experience. There are six key ways that telehealth services make patient experience better.
What does “patient experience” really mean?
The term “patient experience” refers to every interaction a patient has with a healthcare provider. Those interactions start long before a patient sets foot in a provider’s office. The very first point of contact is when the person books an appointment.
Before the mid-2010s, the patient experience was not taken into account; however, there has been a shift toward trying to understand what a patient goes through in the healthcare system. Providers and healthcare organizations are now trying to make those interactions more positive. One significant way to accomplish this is through the use of telehealth services.
How can telehealth services improve patient experience?
Telehealth services are the use of electronic and telecommunications technologies that support remote healthcare. While there’s some confusion between telehealth and telemedicine, the differentiator is that telehealth services are broader in scope.
Within telehealth services, you might see video conferencing, email, and telephony.
Telehealth services improve patient experience by:
- Preserving the doctor-patient relationship despite physical distancing
- Making healthcare more convenient
- Increasing efficiency
- Empowering patients with self-help options
- Increasing access to underserved populations
- Providing better access to specialists
Preserving the doctor-patient relationship despite the distance
In times of public health crisis, it may not be safe to sit in a waiting room to see a healthcare provider. Due to such concerns during the COVID-19 crisis, there was a 50 percent increase in the use of telehealth services in March 2020.
Previously, there had been a debate within the medical community about the impact of telehealth services on doctor-patient relationships, with some providers arguing that the lack of in-person visits would hurt the connection between patients and clinicians.
However, that concern proved to be unjustified. In a study published in June 2020, researchers revealed that after analyzing over 4,500 patient comments on telehealth visits, over 30 percent of those comments expressed that the doctor built a rapport with the patient during a telehealth visit. The third-most frequent comment was that the doctor focused on user experience.
Making healthcare more convenient
“Traditional healthcare” and “convenience” don’t tend to go in the same sentence together. In Accenture’s 2019 Digital Health Consumer Survey, 21 percent of Millennials, 18 percent of Gen Z, and 57 percent of Baby Boomers were disappointed by the inconvenience of appointment times.
Telehealth services improve patient experience by making healthcare more convenient. Instead of having to take time off work (and potentially travel long distances), patients attend a doctor’s visit from the comfort of their own home.
No one wants to waste time. From the patient perspective, time is valuable. One of the benefits of telehealth services is that it increases efficiency. In a 2017 survey, 59 percent of patients who used telehealth services said they saved time, while another 55 percent reported faster service and shorter wait times to see a doctor.
With telehealth services, patients don’t waste time waiting for appointments (either waiting to book them or sitting in the waiting room). They don’t spend time traveling when they don’t need to do so. Instead, they can have an excellent patient experience at home.
Empowering patients with self-help options
In the Accenture study mentioned earlier, patients also expressed their disappointment with the lack of responsiveness to questions outside of appointments. Almost three-quarters of Millennials, 18 percent of Gen Zs, and 63 percent of older patients want their healthcare providers to answer questions without having to book an appointment.
Telehealth can enhance the patient experience by providing self-help options. One way to do that is through a patient access center. A patient access center is a contact center that utilizes a healthcare communications platform (which includes technologies such as video conferencing, telephony, and chat). With a patient access center, a patient could contact his or her provider outside of an appointment to ask questions. Delivering telehealth services this way enables the patient to get the help they need so they use healthcare resources efficiently.
Increasing access to underserved populations
There’s a particular segment of patients for whom telehealth services would greatly improve patient experience: those who live in underserved areas, especially rural areas. They have less access to healthcare providers as well as to insurance. As a result, healthcare is more expensive and difficult to obtain; a 2016 survey showed that over a quarter of uninsured rural residents put off healthcare that year due to lack of access and high costs.
Telehealth services allow rural patients to access medical care in a way that’s convenient. They don’t have to take time off work to travel to appointments (which costs an average of $16,769 and $24,000, respectively). Moreover, regulatory changes have encouraged the use of telehealth services, making it more affordable for rural patients to connect with doctors.
Better access to specialists
Telehealth services also boost patient experience by increasing access to specialists. Access to specialists is restricted based on physician referral, geographic location, and insurance. There are also fewer specialists in relation to primary care physicians and, for rural patients, the challenge to access specialists is greater because specialists are mostly located in urban areas.
With telehealth services, specialists can see more patients. When it’s easier for patients to connect with the providers they need, they have better patient experiences.
Improve patient experience with RingCentral
The drive to improve patient experience is now part of the healthcare landscape. Providers must focus on how they can make it better. A healthcare communications platform allows them to offer telehealth services. Deliver the ideal patient experience. See how cloud communications are transforming healthcare. Get the demo.
Originally published Sep 08, 2020, updated Mar 17, 2021