Just like any relationship, there is an emotional connection between people and brands, and patients and providers. Your relationship with your patients is shaped over time, strengthened or weakened by the online and on ground touch points along the patient journey, reshaped by expectations and confirmed by the fulfillment of your brand promise.
With the rapidly increasing demand for telehealth services and pressure on healthcare providers to quickly adapt to the new normal, this relationship has been and will continue to be tested. The results and long-lasting effects of this test largely depend on the actions you take today that will define your future patient loyalty and reputation in the marketplace.
The ability to openly and authentically communicate with your patients, deliver credible and trusted messages to the marketplace, and then deliver on those messages with an exceptional patient experience is the key to emerging from this challenging period with stronger brands and more loyal stakeholders that advocate freely and happily for your organization.
While many healthcare providers have taken the first steps into creating the new virtual patient journey via telehealth appointments, it is crucial to remember that the actual experience should be grounded in the needs of the patient, focused on two-way communication and match the in-office experience as much as possible.
So, as a healthcare leader, how can you help your team and your patients thrive in a virtual environment that is innately inhuman? And how can you create authentic human communications that will outlast the impact of the coronavirus?
1. Make virtual visits more human
A human-first approach to telehealth virtual visits aids clinical staff and physicians in showing empathy and understanding for patients who feel uncomfortable and out of their element. A few ways to embed human interactions into your virtual visits are to:
- Make introductions, including any parents, children or caregivers.
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage two-way conversation.
- Slow down and listen. Patients may need more time to process and respond.
- Make eye contact and let them know when you are writing or typing offscreen.
Be open with your patients and think of creative ways to surprise them with unexpected, caring gestures. Do your pediatric patients typically receive a treat, sticker, etc. after a visit? Consider mailing a similar item along with a thank you note or next appointment reminder card. You will be surprised how far these small gestures will go in creating patient loyalty and advocacy.
2. Strive for connection, not perfection
When technology is involved, there will always be unexpected issues that arise and can cause a misstep along the virtual patient journey. The key to easing this anxiety is having a plan in place for all possible issues and communicating with your patient on the steps to take to find a resolution together. For example, explain at the beginning of the visit the protocols for disconnection or poor connectivity. If you can demonstrate to your patients that you’re doing everything possible to put them first, then they will be more forgiving of operational glitches, poor sound quality or other imperfections.
3. Measure virtual-care patient satisfaction
If you currently measure patient perceptions of care to increase patient satisfaction scores and elevate online reviews, then the same model should be applied to your telehealth visits for measurement and improvement of virtual patient satisfaction.
Take a look at your key performance indicators and survey questions and reshape these for the virtual environment. Asking the right questions at the right time will help your team to identify weak areas in the telehealth patient experience and create long term solutions. Consider adding in virtual-specific questions such as:
- How well were you able to see the image on the screen?
- How well were you able to hear what the provider was saying?
- How did you feel about the overall telehealth experience today?
- Would you be willing to talk with the provider in this way again?
Ultimately, the shift to an increased demand in telehealth visits offers huge revenue potential for healthcare leaders who can embrace the opportunity. The effects of COVID-19 will teach us all a great deal about our adaptability to change and the true nature and intentions of many organizations. We believe that those who stay focused on their people first, both staff and patients, will emerge in a better, stronger place—together.