During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many practices pivoted quickly to virtual care.1 Now, with more patients and healthcare workers vaccinated – and more payers likely to reimburse virtual visits going forward – practices are applying lessons learned about virtual patient engagement to new, remote patient care models.
According to Kathryn Gray, senior marketing manager at McKesson Medical-Surgical, the "genie is out of the bottle" when it comes to virtual visits. The pandemic has made both patients and providers more comfortable with this modality – and reimbursement for these patient-provider encounters continues to evolve. As more practices adopt the technology needed to conduct telehealth visits, and because reimbursements for telehealth seem likely to stay, Gray expects virtual visits to remain an important care modality for practices.
As virtual care becomes more standard, keeping patients engaged will be more important than ever. Patient engagement supports more satisfied patients, improved health outcomes and medical practice growth. Let's look at eight ways to improve remote patient engagement to help create a successful encounter for both you and your patients.
1 | Prep your patients for virtual care
You can help make virtual visits successful by outlining expectations before the visit. Send reminders prior to virtual visits that encourage patients to:
- Check their technology. Have patients make sure their device has a camera and that they're able to connect to the internet. Remind patients to take themselves off mute before the visit begins
- Find the right location. Encourage patients to survey their surroundings prior to the visit. Will background noise from a radio or television – or a crowded room – make it hard to hear? Is there adequate lighting so the provider can see them?
- Invite others to join. Some patients might want to bring a caregiver or companion to a typical office visit. Be sure to let patients know it's okay to have that person join a virtual visit, too. If they're not in the same physical location as the patient, provide instructions for joining the visit virtually
2 | Let automation work for you
Take advantage of virtual platform system features that remind patients to confirm insurance information and complete sound and video checks as they enter the virtual waiting room for their appointment. You might also send automated, open-ended surveys after visits to gather feedback and learn where your virtual care is – and isn't – successful.
Gray recommends sharing the feedback you gather with your team. "It's important to assess where telehealth provides the best value to your practice," she says. "Like anything else, it's a process of continual improvement. Gathering and discussing feedback from patients and your team can help you adjust so you can meet your goals for adoption of the technology."
3 | Remind patients what to bring to virtual visits
Having up-to-date patient information and test results helps to improve remote patient engagement. Remind patients to provide anything they would bring to an in-office visit, including any test results they've received, in advance. Be sure to collect and review any biometric data from patients who are using connected devices.
Many telemedicine platforms allow patients to upload images (for example, images of rashes or moles) prior to the visit. Some systems will even prompt the patient at sign-in by asking if they have any images or documents to share. These systems allow you to capture images and pull them into the EHR.
Clinicians can also observe patient concerns on camera during the virtual visit. If you need a closer look, encourage patients to take a picture with their cell phone and send it.
4 | Manage patient expectations
Your virtual visit should follow the same flow as an in-person visit. When you enter the virtual room, give a brief overview of what today's visit is about, confirm this information with the patient, and ask if there's anything else the patient wants to discuss during the visit.
Gray says it's important to maintain the professionalism and visit flow that patients typically expect during an in office visit. It's also important to give patients the same "doorknob moment" by asking, "Have I answered all your questions today?"
"Telehealth visits can feel different for patients, so it's important to do all the things you would do during a regular visit," Gray says.
5 | Watch for clues
Virtual visits give you a chance to see patients in their home environment, providing context and knowledge about factors that may affect a patient's health and wellbeing. Take advantage of opportunities provided by contextual clues and engage patients by probing for more information. Talk with them about what you see and hear.
6 | Stay on track
To make virtual visits work for your practice, remember that time is critical. Most telehealth systems have a timer you can see (but the patient can't). Prevent visit "scope creep" and keep visits on track by encouraging follow-up appointments for additional concerns.
7 | Answer "what's next."
Virtual care can create ambiguity for some patients used to seeing a receptionist for next steps on the way out the door. Create clarity with clear direction, such as:
- What to do: Be sure the patient understands what needs to happen next. For example: "The prescription has been sent to your pharmacy. Please pick it up and start taking it today."
- When to call (or reach out through the patient portal): If you want the patient to follow up, be sure to give specific instructions. For example, you could say "Give the office a call in three weeks to set up a follow-up appointment."
- Whom to see: If you're referring a patient to a specialist, let them know how to proceed with getting care. For example, you might instruct, "The specialist's office will call you to make an appointment."
8 | Inspire confidence
Successful remote patient engagement centers on helping patients feel they're getting the care experience they need and are accustomed to. Use a branded, HIPAA-compliant technology platform, look professional (including wearing a white coat) and ensure you have a fitting background.
Consider streamlining the experience for your team by creating a virtual appointment suite in the office with an appropriate, professional background and all the necessary technology at the ready. Having providers conduct telehealth visits from the suite instead of logging in to the platform from their individual offices helps maintain a consistent look and feel to virtual visits. It also cuts down on setup time for these appointments.
Continuous planning and review of virtual care best practices can help improve remote patient engagement. Implementing these best practices for virtual visits can also help raise your practice's quality scores.
© 2021 McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.