Health Tech

How Should Providers Adapt to Telehealth’s New Era?

Most patients prefer in-person care to virtual, according to a recent report. This finding should drive health systems to refine their telehealth experiences — they should determine which type of visits are best-suited for the modality, and they should ensure their virtual care environments adopt a more human-centric design.

Hospitals’ telehealth adoption erupted during the pandemic, but usage rates are nowhere near as high as they were during 2020 and 2021. Now that Covid-19 infections have markedly decreased and the public health emergency has ended, patients aren’t as interested in virtual visits, according to a recent report from EY.

The consulting firm surveyed 6,000 healthcare consumers across six countries and found that most respondents preferred in-person care to virtual. This finding should drive health systems to refine their telehealth experiences to better cater to patients, said Aloha McBride, EY’s global health leader, in a recent interview. 

Patients favor in-person visits for a few reasons, and some of them have to do with practicality, McBride pointed out. One key factor is the fact that in-person appointments allow patients to “show-and-tell,” she said. If a patient has a rash or lesion that they’re unsure about, they often want their physician to be able to examine it in the flesh.

Another pragmatic reason why consumers prefer in-person care is because there’s no risk of technology issues or disconnection.

“I’ve had several virtual appointments — and half of the time, the technology is a little bit iffy. It’s not so stable, and sometimes we lose video. A lot of times, it also seems like the clinician is multitasking and having to do many things at once and not really focused on the patient,” McBride explained.

She pointed out that most hospitals’ virtual care environments “were stood up very quickly” during the pandemic and lack a human-centered design. This means that telehealth platforms are often not intuitive to use — for the clinician or the patient — McBride declared.

Because telehealth offerings were rolled out so rapidly during the pandemic, many clinicians were never shown how to conduct virtual visits “in a way that enables the patient to find a degree of connection with them,” she added.

“Some of the clinicians that I’ve spoken to about this convey to me that they weren’t really trained on how to use the platform or how to have screen-side manner. What are the best practices? How do they engage with the patient? What are the differences that they need to recognize and address as they go into a virtual visit?” McBride explained.

Patients may not be opting for telehealth appointments as much as they were in the early days of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that hospitals are going to get rid of their virtual visit offerings — they just have to determine which types of visits lend themselves best to the care modality, the report said.

For example, telehealth is not a good option for a patient who wants a doctor to check if their leg is broken, but it could be a great option for visits about prescription renewals or discussing test results, McBride pointed out.

Going forward, she also recommended that health systems pay more attention to which aspects of virtual care frustrate patients and what they would like to see changed. 

“[Health systems] have kind of copy-and-pasted what they were doing in an impatient form to a virtual form. Maybe some of it works, but certainly I don’t think it’s the experience that individuals are after,” McBride declared.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images