Telehealth has been a part of the healthcare industry for quite some time. However, it came to the limelight in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. It almost became a buzzword in 2020. The need for social distancing compelled patients to get regular treatment remotely instead of visiting the clinic or the hospital.
As we step into 2021 and countries worldwide prepare themselves for a vaccine, it is evident that patients will continue using telehealth platforms for regular check-ups. After all, it offers patients the convenience to receive treatment from the comforts of their homes even if they stay in a remote area. They don’t have to spend time, effort, or money traveling to the hospital or clinic. It also reduces the burden of the healthcare staff as the treatment is done remotely. They can focus on emergency patients who need care on priority.
It’s time to accept that telehealth will be the new normal and not just an alternative to face-to-face interactions.
However, to offer hassle-free remote treatment to patients, healthcare institutions need to adopt a robust telehealth platform.
Let’s look at the seven must-have features that every telehealth platform must possess in the current times.
7 Features That Every Telehealth Platform Must Offer
A telehealth platform’s basic premise is to allow patients and doctors to exchange and access data in real-time. Cloud technology is more cost-effective, scalable, and secure than on-premises servers. A cloud-based telehealth platform can allow a hassle-free and safe way of exchanging data. It also enables hospitals and clinics to add more computing resources as per the increasing demands. Patients and doctors can exchange heavy data files such as scan images or live video streams to ensure continuity in treatment even remotely. And the best part is that one does not have to worry about data loss. The data can easily be retrieved from the cloud. So, remember to use cloud solutions to store and run the telehealth platform without shelling out extra money on infrastructure.
Ensure that the platform is available on all devices such as laptops, tablets, or mobiles. A patient may use various devices to interact with their doctor. For example, they might book an appointment through the mobile app, but might prefer to do the doctor’s video call from the laptop. The platform should provide information and the same level of experience to its patients on any given device. It also extends to offline channels, i.e., at the doctor’s clinic. The ultimate objective is to create a consistent experience for patients across all touchpoints. Understand how patients interact with the telehealth platforms and integrate all the channels to create a seamless experience.
Superior patient experience
The basic prerequisite of a telehealth platform is that it should be easy for patients to use. Whether it is scheduling or rescheduling appointments, canceling appointments, setting reminders, ordering tests and medicines, or accessing and sharing documents with doctors, everything should be possible through a single platform. The patient should not face any challenges in using the platform. The user interface should be so intuitive that any patient of any age group should be able to use the platform comfortably. The platform should be so engaging that the patient must feel tempted to use it instead of visiting the clinic or hospital for regular check-ups.
According to a 2017 Telemedicine Industry Benchmark Survey, 94% of the surveyed participants marked audio and video communication as the most important feature of the platform. Although it cannot replace the usual face-to-face interaction; audio and video communication help in putting the patients at ease. They can see the doctor and speak to them even from a remote area without disrupting their schedule. It works well, especially when patients are critical and cannot travel long distances. Doctors can interact with the caregivers through video calls and provide them with effective solutions. The telehealth platform can also have an in-app messaging option for patients to leave text messages to doctors in case of an emergency.
Easy payment options
While seeking treatment remotely, patients might face a challenge in paying the medical bills. There could also be a delay in sending the patient’s payment receipts if the payment gateway is not integrated with the platform. An ideal telehealth platform should allow patients to pay their medical bills by using their preferred payment option. Patients like it when hospitals and clinics offer flexibility in payment options. The platform should offer multiple payment options and generate automated invoices once the payment is made. Most importantly, the payment gateway should be secure and easy for patients to use. It should also offer records of the patient’s previous payments for easy reference in the future.
Integration with existing systems and workflows
A complete overhaul in the system and workflows could impact the daily functioning of the hospital and clinic. The telehealth platform should be able to integrate with the legacy systems and old hospital workflows seamlessly. Integrated systems and workflows will enable the healthcare staff to continue their daily routine without disrupting the daily functioning and with minimal training while ensuring improved treatment and experience for patients. Integrated systems also help healthcare professionals to streamline patient care, manage patient records effectively, and reduce confusion due to duplicate or erroneous medical records.
Compliance and security
One of the reasons healthcare companies and policymakers were cautious about integrating digitization in healthcare is laws like HIPAA that protect patient data privacy. With telehealth platforms exchanging data on the cloud, companies need to assess the vulnerabilities and risks associated with data privacy and plan a security strategy to safeguard data. Considering that patients will trust their records with the hospital, the telehealth app must comply with HIPAA. The telehealth platform could be robust and compliant with privacy laws, but it should ensure safety from hacks and malware, and be transparent in its communication with the patient. It should be able to win the customer’s trust.
Despite its presence for so many years, countries worldwide have been slow in adopting telehealth as a part of patient care.
For instance, Malaysia had conceived the telehealth blueprint way back in 1997 but implemented it in 2020.
Similarly, talking about the quick adoption of the telehealth platform, a London-based general practitioner quipped that the country witnessed a 10-year change in one week.
The US Federal and state governments had also developed temporary health policy flexibilities on telehealth and remote patient monitoring when the pandemic spread.
With the governments warming up to the idea of using telehealth and patients starting to adopt it as an option to seek timely treatment, it’s time that the healthcare industry considers it seriously. It’s time that they start developing engaging telehealth platforms that encourage patients to use them actively.