The rapid introduction of telemedicine and other telehealth tools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided key insight into what the future of medicine might look like. While many patients are already indicating that they want the convenience of telemedicine to continue in the future, the use of online platforms to deliver virtual visits has also exposed some weaknesses.
One of the most glaring concerns are barriers that patients face, preventing them from accessing care online or through telemedicine platforms. It’s important for providers and office managers to recognize the most common barriers and figure out ways to overcome them to help patients access the care they need.
One of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought sharply into focus is the essential nature of high-speed internet (often called broadband internet). There are two reasons that a person might not have high-speed internet:
- They live in an area where it’s not available, often in rural areas of the country
- They cannot afford the cost of high-speed internet
A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report released in April 2020 estimated that around 6.5% of the population, or 21 million people, don’t have access to broadband internet. However, critics say that the report relies on notoriously inaccurate maps that broadband providers supply to the FCC, and the actual number is likely about twice as high at 42 million people.
For healthcare providers who want to use telemedicine technology, it’s essential to know how much of your patient population is in that estimated 42 million to ensure that moving to more virtual visits won’t cut off critical access points for someone without broadband internet.
Comfort Level with Technology
Another very important consideration is the patients’ comfort level with technology. There are actually two things to consider here:
- How comfortable patients are broadly with technology; do they have a smartphone or a home computer or can they find reliable access to one of those things?
- How easy and intuitive your technology is for patients to use; did you choose a software platform that makes it easy even for non-tech-savvy people to figure it out as long as they have the right tools?
You can often overcome some of the hesitation for patients who aren’t as comfortable by having a simple platform, offering clear instructions, and having someone from your staff available to answer questions by phone if they get stuck. It’s also important not to make assumptions about a person’s comfort level based on their age—there are plenty of people over 65 who regularly use technology in their lives today, and some younger people who don’t feel comfortable with tech.
A final consideration is insurance coverage, and whether the type of visit the patient needs will be reimbursed by their insurance provider. The pandemic has increased access significantly in this regard, and even payers that were notoriously unwilling to reimburse many telemedicine visits (like Medicare and Medicaid) now allow more care through technology platforms.
Increase Your Telemedicine Offerings Today
For clinics interested in expanding access to telemedicine and other telehealth solutions, talk to AdvancedMD to find out how easy it can be to get the right tools in your small or independent clinic.