Telemedicine, one of the healthcare industry’s most creative and innovative technological advances, has introduced an entirely new layer to patient engagement.
By providing healthcare via video conference on a smartphone or a computer, telemedicine extends healthcare to new patient populations in innovative ways, extending the meaning of patient engagement. Telemedicine introduces new patients to preventative and primary care, and allows them to interact with physicians in ways that they weren’t able to before.
By delivering care to rural areas, extending convenient, anytime care, and allowing providers to think outside the box, telemedicine has helped to spur a new wave of patient engagement tactics throughout the healthcare industry.
Delivering care to hard-to-reach, rural regions
The most immediate benefit of telemedicine is the new population of patients who are able to receive care. Before telemedicine, patients living in rural areas with limited access to healthcare had to travel hours to see a physician, and would often go without primary or preventative care.
Patients in rural areas are also utilizing telemedicine to access specialized care, like behavioral healthcare and therapy.
That’s what Reena Pande, MD, chief medical officer at Abilto, found with regard to telemedicine. In fact, a notable portion of Pande’s patients come from rural regions.
“We have seen that about one-third of our participants come from rural regions. These are individuals who would probably never get the type of care we deliver – a combination of behavioral, coaching, and therapy delivered to high-risk medical populations,” she previously told mHealthIntelligence.com. “They may never have access to those type of providers in their regions or neighborhoods. It’s a real thrill to see that we can improve access to care nationally by this type of mechanism delivery.”
Getting people to see their doctors seems like an almost rudimentary form of patient engagement, but for these populations, it’s important. By introducing telemedicine and providing the opportunity for patients to see a physician in more than just emergency situations gives patients the power to take control of all aspects of their care.
Extending care at any time, in any place
Telemedicine has its benefits for more than just patients in rural and suburban regions. For the busy parent or the bustling professional, telemedicine can provide a convenient alternative to spending the afternoon trying to get an appointment with a doctor to help manage flu symptoms.
In the grand scheme of things, that means looking at the different barriers to care and abolishing them.
“With respect to engagement, I think the task for us as a healthcare system is really to think about what barriers exist for patients to get the type of care they need and how to remove those barriers,” Pande noted.
In many cases, those barriers include time and accessibility. Telemedicine gets rid of those barriers by allowing patients to speak with their physician through a video on their smartphone or computer without having to take time out of their days to get into the doctor’s office.
Surveys show that patients appreciate the convenience. In a recent study in JAMA Dermatology, researchers out of the University of Pittsburgh found that many acne patients would prefer to conduct their monthly dermatology appointments via telemedicine.
Out of 62 adult patients and 43 caregivers of patients under the age of 18, the response to telemedicine visits was mostly positive. Seventy percent of the adult patients would be comfortable with telemedicine visits, and 60 percent of the caregivers would be comfortable.
Allowing providers to think outside the box
While telemedicine does bring with it several concerns, such as licensure disparities across state lines, its benefits bring a whole new level of creativity to the healthcare industry.
Through telemedicine and the rest of the healthcare Internet of Things, physicians are employing clever methods for patient engagement and marketing their services. One tactic that came out of the woodwork at the end of 2015 was the use of gift certificates for telemedicine visits.
Telemedicine company DocChat is offering these gift certificates at various different levels – consumers can purchase anything from a one-appointment gift at $40 to a year’s worth of visits valued at $500. These gift certificates are good for any patient, regardless of his or her level of health insurance coverage.
These methods engage patients by creating a marketplace culture around healthcare. When healthcare is a commodity that can be bought and sold, patients are engaged in a new and innovative way. This approach makes healthcare more convenient for patients, thus influencing them to access it more frequently.
“We want to do more than make healthcare convenient and affordable,” said DocChat’s founder Steve Okhravi, MD. “We want to make it a commodity, a product people can purchase in different packages and give to friends or relatives who are too busy to visit a local doctor but not too busy to see one through their smart phone.”
Experts expect telemedicine to persist as the healthcare industry continues to undergo changes toward a more patient-centric model. Going forward, providers will need to remember that telemedicine is an important part of patient engagement and extending care in a way that is convenient for all healthcare consumers.
“We’ve been a bit hospital and healthcare system-centric and we’re flipping that model to be more patient-centric and to think about how we can put the patient back at the center of the model,” Pande remarked. “Figure out how to best serve them, how to figure out what’s standing in their way, and how to remove those barriers.”