Telehealth existed long before the pandemic, but it was primarily used to provide healthcare services to rural, remote communities without easy access to a clinic or hospital. And the quality of those connections was typically lacking, providing for a less-than-stellar patient experience (and often a frustrating one for healthcare practitioners).
But the pandemic changed everything. Family physicians started offering appointments by phone or video. Specialists started offering virtual visits. And hospitals postponed elective surgeries and pivoted to virtual consultations and follow-ups.
While in some cases it’s beneficial or necessary to visit a healthcare practitioner in person, in many other cases patients have found that virtual visits are more convenient—and just as effective—as in-person visits. Resistance and skepticism have given way to acceptance and even preference for a digital experience.
Improving the patient experience
Not only can this help to improve patient satisfaction, it can also help to reduce costs without compromising on patient outcomes. For example, the Hospital at Home program developed at Johns Hopkins—which combines in-person home care, remote monitoring and video visits—reduces costs by one-third, while improving patient satisfaction and delivering equivalent patient outcomes.
And the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) found in a recent survey that 90 per cent of patients were satisfied with virtual care and almost half (46 per cent) prefer a virtual method as the first point of contact with their doctor.
In-person visits have resumed in many parts of North America, and while some healthcare providers will lapse back to ‘business as usual,’ many are using this as an opportunity to offer virtual care platforms on a more permanent basis.
Through a password-protected portal, for example, a patient could upload a photo of a weird-looking mole and their doctor could ask questions via text, phone or video to assess if the patient needs to come in for further assessment—or if it’s benign and nothing to worry about.
With technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning and artificial intelligence, healthcare will extend into new areas, such as the use of wearable devices that can help physicians remotely monitor patients or track symptoms. Virtual assistants could explain follow-up procedures and recommend treatments via a secure, encrypted portal.
Investing in the right tools
But to make this work over the long term, healthcare providers need to invest in tools, platforms and network technologies to provide a seamless experience for patients and practitioners alike. After all, a virtual appointment is less effective (and frustrating) if your connection is slow or spotty. And without encryption, privacy could be compromised.
Virtual healthcare services should be easy to access (particularly for patients with limited digital literacy skills), meaning it’s easy to schedule appointments, login to virtual visits and upload photos or documentation. And platforms should provide secure access to electronic health records to protect patient privacy.
High-speed, secure connectivity provides a foundation for cloud, hybrid or on-premise virtual care platforms, whether for a large hospital, assisted living facility or local physician’s office.
Allstream’s Cloud Connect, for example, helps to improve the patient experience with faster, consistent access to patient data, and is capable of transferring large, uncompressed medical files in seconds—all while maintaining privacy across a dedicated connection. With Cloud Connect, healthcare providers can improve connection speed, reliability and security.
To find out how to boost network performance or add Cloud Connect to your existing network services, visit allstream.com.