How to Improve Patient Satisfaction Using Telemedicine & Prevent User Complaints in Digital Health
In an era where technology and the Internet is the dominant form of communication, people now avail all kinds of services that are miles away from the comfort of their home in an instant. This includes health services such as telemedicine, which has gained an incredible momentum especially in this pandemic season, during which social distancing is necessary.
To enhance the user experience with digital health, it is important to address common compliants and figure out out practical methods in improving their satsifaction with the product.
Patients are able to connect and consult about their sickness with expert doctors from all around the world without having to go to a clinic or a hospital.
Telemedicine has been around for a while, mostly in rural settings, prisons, or for remote observation of people who cannot leave home and require intensive care.
Patients are generally used to visiting doctors in-person, which might make them quite sceptical about the outcome of a telemedicine interaction.
Nevertheless, health professionals all over the world use telemedicine to improve patient experience. Telemedicine has its fair share of barriers.
There are very limited studies regarding patient satisfaction using telemedicine. To make telemedicine a more popular concept, it is therefore important to understand how to ensure patient satisfaction.
Why Patient Satisfaction is Important
In a recent study conducted in New York by Ramaswamy et al. (2020), results showed that there was an 8729% increase in telemedicine visits during the Covid-19 period after 4th March 2020 compared to the same period the previous year. This unprecedented increase may have a lasting impact on the field of medicine.
In the recent disaster settings telemedicine has made successful waves. Not only did it help with home quarantine and social distancing with healthcare professionals, it also reduced the burden on healthcare infrastructure.
With fewer patients visiting the hospital, healthcare workers were able to be involved in cases that required more immediate care and treatment.
Telemedicine saved time and money, and allowed patients to interact with doctors without any barriers. There seemed to be no difference in clinical outcomes with or without telemedicine use.
It also facilitated doctors to remotely care for patients who were in quarantine, who were old and weak, who faced mobility issues in lockdown, and who had financial constraints or lack of insurance. It allowed doctors to gain access to an increasing number of patients in less time.
This is why it is absolutely crucial for telemedicine doctors to ensure a positive patient experience. In fact, patient satisfaction has been considered the most important factor for telemedicine success, and as a result it can be used to determine the quality of the service.
A satisfied patient of telemedicine can adhere to the treatment regime properly, with reduced chances of surgery or readmissions, all at lower costs without running after insurance companies or hospital bills.
He or she can also relay the service to others and popularize telemedicine further. Patients from one country can talk to doctors in another country without a tiresome journey. Doctors can diagnose and plan treatments earlier.
Telemedicine has the potential to revolutionize and democratize healthcare
Ensuring A Positive Patient Experience with Telemedicine
Telemedicine relies greatly on patient satisfaction reports because the patient is the only source that can inform whether the treatment received met their expectations. According to a systematic review conducted by Kruse et al. (2017), to maintain patient satisfaction, the patient-to-provider relationship and communication must be solid. This can be done in several ways.
Ensure Transparency: In the virtual environment, when the patient meets a telemedicine doctor some form of anxiety is natural. The doctor should try to build trust and confidence with the patient, so that the patient feels safe and comfortable enough to talk about the health problem.
To get the patient to fully understand the health problem, it is necessary to speak slowly and explain in an easy manner. The video screen can be used to show images or videos representing the condition, diagnostic procedures, and differentials.
Listen to The Patient
Allow the patient to actively participate in their health-related decisions. Telemedicine is all about partnering with the patient. The patient-focused approach would be successful only if you fully hear what a patient is trying to say.
Teach The Patient
Often after a telemedicine visit, a follow-up is required. By building an amazing relationship with the patient, you can remind them for follow-ups and medications through telemedicine apps or video calls. Teach them politely about how to use app features, websites, and video calls more effectively when discussing the health issue. By learning to use technology it will be easier for them to remain in contact and schedule appointments whenever they need it.
Why Do Patients Complain about Telemedicine?
In the Ramaswamy study it was also observed that patient satisfaction was greater in video visits than in-person visits. 94.9% patient experiences were positive in telemedicine interactions, while 92.5% patients were satisfied with in-person visits.
Does this mean patients do not have negative experiences? On the contrary, receiving online patient complaints is very likely.
In some instances of patient-to-provider interaction, the care provided may not meet the expectations of the patient. Doctors may be busy with multiple patients and become stressed out. Their cold, apathetic, or distant behavior may cause the patient to feel unattended and unheard.
Such a patient would also not be likely to attend follow-up visits or adhere to treatments and medications on time.
Another issue is the difficulty to teach patients technology. For example, during a consultation, teaching patients how to take better pictures of their skin disease or improving video quality is both time-consuming and annoying, especially for the patient who is learning it.
Generally, older patients and those with certain disabilities do not fare well in dealing with technology. Technical issues can lead to misdiagnosis or poor communication with the patient. As a result, the patient can complain.
Some patients might feel that their privacy would be hampered with telemedicine calls at home. As a result, they would always prefer to physically go to the doctor.
There are some who might prefer in-person follow-ups or a combination of alternating telemedicine sessions and in-person visits. If their choices are not welcomed, they can complain.
If a family is riddled with domestic abuse, violence, crime, and other hidden activities, chances are that the patient will keep on insisting in-person visits instead of telemedicine visits. If the doctor pushes boundaries the patient is likely to complain.
It has been noted that pregnant first-time mothers are more likely to visit the doctor in person than mothers who have already had children. In fact, pregnant mothers with children prefer virtual healthcare since it saves time and money.
Women in general are slightly more hesitant to use telemedicine as they would appreciate more talking in-person regarding serious or hidden conditions such as abortions, infertility, sexual health, etc.
While telemedicine has established itself as a reliable method of providing healthcare, there is still a long way to go, and a lot to cover. Policymakers need to implement laws that support and protect telemedicine practice, both for the security of the patient and to avoid physician malpractice.
Insurance companies and the government might not provide comprehensive disbursements for medical facilities of telemedicine. If more hospitals, clinics, and medical centers adopt telemedicine initiatives, the scenario may change one day.
The practicality of providing an impactful virtual care experience, can start as far back as medical residency training. All accredited medical institutions prepare their graduates to uphold the highest edicts of bedside manners and professionalism regardless of the situation and the complexity of the health issue.
Telemedicine providers should be aware that shifting interactions into the online clinic is not a major change from the communication-based approach to a comprehensive history taking, with a strong emphasis on establishing the doctor-patient rapport.
This ‘webside’ manners is an enhanced form of bedside manners that doctors are trained in.
Many online certification training programs exist to aid healthcare professionals to attune their clinical skills towards an optimal telehealth experience.
Senior specialists with decades of clinical interactions have this innate skill within them, therefore the comfortable and hassle-free virtual clinic space may be the ideal environment to be more relaxed and thorough in dealing with their patients.
There is much research and consideration needed going forward into telemedicine as a viable career choice.
Opportunities in transferring skills and changing the mindset of providers is the first step towards the holistic healthcare experience that both doctors and patients yearn for.
On telemedicine working especially well with pediatric patients: “We’re just kind of observing their behavior, their growth, their development, how they’re doing,” Dr. Brumm said. “And instead of kind of being fearful of the [physician], they’re dancing, singing, showing me their pets.”
Jennifer Brumm, MD, a Pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse