Telehealth Supports the Most Innovative Aspect of Your Healthcare Company: The Patient

This article was originally published in MedCity News.

An app will fetch your patients a tissue box and some chicken soup. Another will find them a ride to your office. But when it comes to receiving the actual medical care they need, innovation often stops there. And your patients know it.

Telehealth holds the key to providing patients with the user experience they have grown to expect from nearly every other industry: instant, frictionless and customer-focused. But how do you know if you’re “doing telehealth” correctly?

The healthcare companies currently providing the most effective customer experience have a few things in common, and the companies that will come out on top in the years ahead will be as savvy as their patients. Successful healthcare companies will:

Change the Way People Access and Communicate with Care Resources

The average person can connect with large corporations and world leaders with a well-placed “@.” Why is talking to an informed healthcare professional more difficult? Simple, on-demand chat or text-based care can create frictionless connections between patients and physicians, improving both patient experience and health outcomes.

Contrary to popular opinion, chat bots delay and obfuscate the care experience. Many patient concerns can be cleared up via asynchronous chat; no videoconferencing or in-person appointments necessary. Patients want this.

In fact, a recent survey of senior citizens by Becker Hospital Review, found more than half would be willing to use telehealth if it was offered by their provider or health plan, and 73 percent said their interest was piqued by the promise of faster care.

Make Communication Meaningful

Of course, speed isn’t the only thing telemedicine provides. By surrounding patients with multispecialty teams that share a complete record of the entire patient-doctor communication, successful telemedicine companies will foster continuity of care. Providers will be able to seamlessly transfer patients to additional resources within one platform.

Nothing else in medicine currently works like this. Dr. William Osler, the founder of modern medicine, famously said, “Listen to your patient; they are telling you the diagnosis.”

And yet, medical records aren’t engineered to record the patient voice, uncensored and unfiltered. Chat and text-based communication is the “voice” that Osler told doctors to listen for. By maintaining each line of interaction, telehealth places the patient’s own words (and even some choice emojis) into the medical record. This level of visibility, insight, and predictive power  represents the sea change this industry so desperately needs.

Take the Time to Build Trust

When it comes to a novel healthcare experience, if something doesn’t go well the first time, there might not be a second time. Companies that will succeed at building patient trust from the outset will engender loyalty and long-term positive health habits.

To build trust requires not only a barrier-free opportunity to access providers, but a virtually limitless one. By tearing down the wait times and removing chatbots, doctors can help more patients than they ever could in clinic. And when this is done right, patients can get the help they need at the time they need it.

Doctors and patients alike are frustrated by the current fee-for-service model that limits interaction and speeds patients through appointments. There is no need to graft a broken analog model onto a digital platform.

By taking the time to actually listen, ask questions and allow patients’ questions to get asked and answered, successful companies will not only build trust with users but just might change the entire healthcare ecosystem.

Always Be “On”

Sickness doesn’t sleep, and the companies that provide care shouldn’t either. Coming up with creative new approaches to reducing barriers to user access will mean keeping that “open” sign illuminated  and transforming the healthcare experience from a point-in-time transaction to an ongoing and trusted relationship.

Partnerships with pharmacies, health tech companies and wearable device companies can help transform the healthcare experience from transactional, barrier-riddled experience into a seamless, effective and limitless one.

Wearable technology in particular has the potential to transform healthcare, but only if there is a human on the other end of the data stream, analyzing the information and communicating with users about what each alert might mean.

This new model expands what it means to be a provider  and how that term can be scaled and reconfigured to meet more than just basic primary needs. This will make it possible to meet patients’ various and varying needs all on one platform.

Put Humans First

In an increasingly automated healthcare landscape, there is a strong user  demand for human-first connection. The companies that leverage AI to enhance  not replace  human connection are the ones that will change the way healthcare is delivered.

Take diagnostics. The real value in machine learning and AI is in learning from data to make predictions based on information that is invisible to the human eye. In other words, a computer might be able to register more data from a single CT scan than a radiologist. By flagging predictive data for the human expert, a computer can enhance the radiologist’s ability to do what she does best — make judgements.

Compassion, pride, embarrassment, justice, envy and solidarity. These are all the ingredients for empathy, for understanding the human condition and establishing a relationship with patients. Nobody has ever felt “seen” by a machine, and companies that fail to “see” their patients will have to watch them walk away toward the competition.

Blake McKinney

Blake McKinney, MD is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of CirrusMD. As an emergency physician in Northern California, Dr. McKinney brings a unique perspective to CirrusMD and how our clients can best utilize the platform. Dr. McKinney completed his internship and residency at UC Davis Medical Center after graduating from the University of Texas Medical School. Prior to medical school, he served for four years in the US Marine Corps. He received his bachelor's in Biomedical Science from Texas A&M.