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Why are Telehealth Visits Declining? Additional Considerations to Optimize Virtual Care

Years of healthcare innovation adoption have been crammed into a few short months. Some of it even took hold.

In an industry famous for delaying technological development, telehealth came on the scene in a hurry. At first, it felt like a huge step forward, meeting the immediate needs of providers during the pandemic.

Some very prestigious healthcare systems have claimed thousands of percent increase in telehealth visits. Not surprisingly, 67% of telehealth patients say that they would prefer a telehealth appointment for their next visit.

Despite this quick growth, however, a study published by the Commonwealth Fund shows telehealth visits are now dropping.

So why are we going backward?

We’ve found some of the challenges that still need to be addressed.

The Process Problem: A Brief Case Study

I recently walked with someone through a series of telehealth appointments from one of the top academic health systems in the country.

This woman is over the age of 65 and therefore fits within the demographic of patients that make up 40% of healthcare’s usage.

She’s not exactly what I (or anyone) would call tech-savvy, but the health system saw that coming. I can’t tell you how many calls, emails, reminders with instructions, instructional videos, widgets, gadgets, plugins and browser compatibility hurdles she needed to overcome prior to the visit. They even had a dedicated tech employee spend 30 minutes explaining the process to her before the visit.

They did what they could to simplify the process, but in the end, things just felt more complex for her. She had to balance an influx of information while switching between physical and digital paperwork. She found herself immersed in a less than optimal process. It may be automated, a bit better, and certainly faster, but it still leaves much to be desired.

This became even more clear when it came time for a referral.

The Referral Regress

The vast majority of specialty visits are referrals from other providers, and the vast majority of initial healthcare contact is through primary care that then directs the patient to specialty providers.

How did this work out with our telehealth visit?

It didn’t.

The advancements made toward optimizing in-person referral experiences did not transfer over to the virtual world. Other people who had a recent telehealth visit will attest to considerable improvements in scheduling online and pre-registering, but they will tell you that the experience got a bit “wonky” when it came to referrals.

In our case, the old-school paper, fax, phone call, and email workflow resurrected from its grave. She was given the name of the doc, and she called that doc herself to set up an appointment. She had to bring all her own records from the “sending provider” with her to the appointment. It’s no wonder we are seeing a retraction in Telehealth visits.

Tech exists to make these processes more efficient, not more complex. These patients are getting lost in the changes from progress to regress, which makes practices more vulnerable to leakage and reduced follow-through rates.

Still, the steps forward have not been wasted. The industry is in a unique position to capitalize on the progress made and commit to true digital transformation.

Envisioning Simplified Tech

Think about it this way. Everyone –including the older demographic of patients– buys stuff online or enjoys pictures of their grandkids on social media. Many people know how to Facetime or even book a flight on the internet.

If they can do all this, why do they need a tech professional and 10 how-to documents to access their telehealth visit? Why can’t providers offer an integrated telehealth experience with the patient to identify and schedule the desired provider to be seen for speciality consultation?

Thankfully I am surrounded with some really bright healthcare professionals and technologists who have shown me that this is possible, and we don’t have to wait long for it.

The solution is not another tool, widget, or plugin. It's a secure, integrated experience that leverages existing patient technology capabilities while staying in sync with provider workflow and data.


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