In part one of this blog we discussed some of the ways that telemedicine has improved patient access during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that is not universally true for all patients. In part two we’re going to discuss some of the barriers that your patients might face in accessing care through technology like smartphones, apps, and computers, as well as some ways you can help remove barriers when possible.
Common Patient Barriers to Telehealth and Telemedicine
While patients may struggle to access telehealth and telemedicine services for a variety of reasons, there are common challenges that come up:
- Limited access to high-speed internet
- Lack of access to a computer or smartphone
- Financial barriers that prevent the purchase of electronic devices
- Physical barriers to online care, such as dementia, hearing loss, or impaired vision
- Inability to use devices without assistive technology
- Discomfort with using technology, or lack of understanding on how to use it
- No access to email or text messages to receive information about telehealth and telemedicine
- Limited or no access to resources (including family members or caregivers) to learn how to use technology
- Language barriers that require translation services during virtual visits
The pandemic has exacerbated already-deepening divides between those who are tech-savvy and those who are not, as well as between those who can afford tech tools and those who cannot. The unfortunate consequence is that people who may need the most access to remote care right now are those who can least afford it or figure out how to get it. Seniors who live alone may become increasingly isolated and sick without the medical care, food, and other basic necessities they need to stay healthy.
How to Bridge the Gap for Your Patients
There is no easy answer for patients struggling to access care through telemedicine and telehealth portals who face one or more of the barriers noted above. However, there are things your clinic can do to expand access to more people:
- Find a telemedicine platform that offers adaptive features like larger font sizes or chat to communicate with people who have vision or hearing difficulties.
- Use a software program that seamlessly transfers from computers to smartphones. Some lower-income patients without access to a computer and high-speed internet may still have access to a smartphone and can use it for virtual visits.
- Provide simple instructions to engage in a telemedicine visit in multiple formats—online, through your patient portal, text, or chat programs—so people can access instructions in whatever way is most convenient and available.
- Engage family members or caregivers if possible, to run the computer or smartphone during a visit.
- Use telephone visits when possible for patients who do not have technology tools for a telemedicine visit via video chat.
There may also be patients who have skipped care and aren’t aware that telemedicine is an option, even if they have the tools and tech knowledge to use it. Sending out notifications via email, text message, and regular mail about telemedicine can help patients understand how to get care during a challenging time. You can also reach out to patients by phone if you haven’t seen or heard from them in a while and you know they are in a higher-risk category or were previously coming in for regular appointments.
To learn more about telehealth and telemedicine tools that your clinic can use for patient outreach, contact AdvancedMD for a demo of our integrated practice management software, including EHR, telemedicine, patient portals, medical billing, and more.