The promise of quality virtual care has for years been just that—a promise. Then came the pandemic, which forced a reality check by healthcare organizations worldwide. Infrastructure limitations and geography were no longer acceptable inconveniences for consumers seeking care.
To be sure, many providers have already implemented tools that blur the line between the virtual and physical worlds. Secure, self-service portals are now the norm, enabling patients to leverage web functionality to obtain health information and find accessible care. Moving forward, even more exotic forms of technology — virtual reality and artificial intelligence among them – will make significant strides to connect high tech with high touch.
High-tech healthcare doesn’t have to sacrifice high-touch relationships. Both can co-exist, and together, jointly enhance the patient experience. It begins by allowing patients to be equal partners in their care. People are eager to find constructive providers who allow them to feel seen, heard and respected. In the digital world, this translates to virtual care that’s delivered with kindness.
Integrating personal attention with technology can deliver a multi-faceted approach to treatment that keeps patients on the path to better health. Care Managers, for example, can effectively bridge the gap between in-person and virtual care by helping patients understand their conditions and options. They can help coordinate specialist appointments, remotely monitor medication compliance and support lifestyle changes. For people living with complex and chronic conditions, certified health professionals such nurses, social workers, dietitians and behavioral health specialists, offer a lifeline.
Meaningful connections can also be established between care recipients and their digital health aides. The mainstreaming of voice-based devices in the home, which are easy to set up and use, are now helping close a clinical gap. Programmable voice assistants can proactively facilitate caregiver check-ins and answer health questions remotely. Ultimately, these devices open the door for more beneficial and satisfying follow-on provider interactions.
Digital health aides can alleviate some of the more tedious day-to-day tasks of care, too. Caregivers are most accepting of virtual support when it’s rooted in delivering, monitoring and tracking the care plan of their loved ones. Improving the quality of time that family members spend together often restores the emotional bonds strained by illness. The outcome is a holistic approach to family wellness.
But is the most basic element of high touch care — empathy — viable in virtual communication? The answer is yes. Recently, emergency care clinicians at Stanford University School of Medicine used tablets to video conference with patients coping with the pandemic. These physicians found that personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, face shields and scrubs severely hampered their ability to build trust and rapport with patients. By using tablet technology, they could remove PPE and demonstrate empathy at a time when patients need it most.
Telemedicine can potentially offer a better patient-doctor bond and more meaningful visits. A Massachusetts General Hospital study found that patients reported strong personal connections with providers when using telehealth. Some 62% of patients said the quality of telehealth visits was as good as in-person visits, while 21% said it was even better. Given that some new Medicare rules for reimbursement mandate a visit minimum of 20 minutes, it’s clear that telemedicine can help deliver what many patients value most — uninterrupted time with their provider.
This excerpt is a part of our healthcare trends brief, When High Tech Meets High Touch: Can It Click in the Continuum of Care?