Telehealth accessibility remains an important factor for providers capitalizing on this increasingly popular and feasible option, made more so during the pandemic. The care alternative that promised key advantages pre-pandemic has undergone accelerated vetting throughout the crisis, demonstrating those advantages as demanded by necessity.
Many benefits of telehealth have since been proven. Telehealth is no longer a potential internet boon to healthcare access, many patients and doctors used to stay in touch when it wasn’t advisable to meet in person during the more perilous pandemic peaks.
Telehealth providers and EHR companies offer telehealth implementation services that are not only cost effective and relatively turnkey, but proven during the last two years.
How Telehealth Can Improve Accessibility to Healthcare
Telehealth and access to care are likely to be mentioned in the same breath. If there’s a challenge to getting people connected with healthcare, telehealth provides a solution, and likely an effective one. Two major challenges to access to care are geography and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Telehealth Provides Access to Rural Patients
About 60 million people, or about 19 percent of Americans, live in rural America, according to a 2017 U.S. Census report. Only 14 percent of primary care physicians in the United States practice in rural areas, however.
In addition to the dichotomy between population and number of health professionals, rural areas face physical barriers to accessing health care. Those barriers include lack of transportation to services located at a distance, and the lack of flexibility to take paid time off from work to receive care.
People in rural areas are more likely to die prematurely from all of the five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports.
Telehealth promises the ability to hurdle physical barriers and improve those statistics. The CDC supports telehealth projects across the country to give rural residents better access to chronic disease prevention and management programs, and specialist care:
- Stroke care and cardiac rehabilitation
- Diabetes management and prevention
- Vision care for people with diabetes
- Tobacco cessation
- Epilepsy management
Telehealth Makes Care Possible Under Extraordinary Circumstances
During the pandemic, patients and healthcare providers resorted to telehealth to prevent and reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
By balancing the need for primary and specialty care with the serious concern about the spread of disease during in-person visits, healthcare providers and patients who are self-isolating use telehealth to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The solution prevents direct physical contact while providing continuous care to the community, according to a recent study by BMC Public Health published in US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Researchers found also reduced morbidity and mortality during COVID-19 .
Common Barriers to Telehealth Accessibility
Barriers to telehealth accessibility include limited access to broadband, digital literacy gaps, and the provider’s own website utility when applying telehealth solutions. While internet access remains a matter of local infrastructure and relevant policies, there are proactive solutions for the latter two.
Patients with low digital literacy face a formidable commitment of time and determination to learn how to use the medium, new to them, created with assumptions about basic digital literacy that may not apply. Your practice can help patients past that hurdle by providing education on using the programs.
An effort at outreach should quickly bring digitally challenged patients up to speed. While some assume digital literacy would be more of a challenge when it comes to telehealth access for seniors, save some of your attention forDon’t buy in to the stereotype that older people are not digitally literate. There may well be younger people who are reluctant to engage with technology or who lack the access needed to develop digital experience.
Encourage Teleheath Engagement with a User-Friendly Website
If your patients can’t use your website, they won’t be inclined to use your telehealth services. Since adding telemedicine service to your website will require expert assistance, it is best to enlist consultant advice on website improvements for overall utility while you’re at it.
8 Steps To Improve Telehealth Accessibility On Launch
- Partner up. Connect with a firm that has helped other systems successfully meet similar goals to yours – and in a timeline that your organization is comfortable with.
- Remember staff buy–in. Your staff must understand why you are launching the service, or you won’t be likely to have their committment and cooperation in making it work successfully.
- Set clear goals – Communicate your goals clearly and often at team meetings, in memos, and postings in breakrooms.
- Review state regulations and reimbursement guidelines – There are likely new codes and documentation that need to be set into current workflows pertaining to telehealth visits
- Select your vendor – You’ll want to shop top EHR consulting firms specializing in telehealth service.
- Market to patients – Create a marketing plan that includes text messaging, portal messages and emails that encourage telehealth engagement. Also consider posting telehealth information in your patient exam rooms and mail updates to patients.
- Circle back regularly – Reach out to those providing and using the service for improvement recommendations and feedback and to measure success against your goals.
Why Launch Telehealth Services Now?
Telehealth services are both more in demand and more widely utilized than ever before. There remain enormous opportunities to reach patients you’d otherwise have difficulty bringing into the office, with or without a pandemic.
Medical Advantage Can Help
Launching a telehealth system to improve healthcare accessibility can be a daunting task. Thankfully, our expert telehealth consultants are here to help your practice seamlessly implement your telehealth system. To learn more, contact one of our consultants below.