What it takes to create a first-class telehealth experience

Fernando Porter, MD , Medical director of Privia Virtual Health and Life Ambulance Services

This column is part of a series of firsthand physician accounts that detail how AMA medical group partners are moving medicine to support patient health and the medical profession.

Much like the economy class on an airline, the one-size-fits-all approach may not work for everyone—especially in health care.

Making technology work for physicians

The AMA is working to make sure technology is an asset to physicians—not a burden.

This is especially true for how people choose to get care. Convenience drives patient demand in primary care and could be why younger patients too often opt for retail clinics and telehealth over traditional primary care settings. While both are convenient, retail clinics are transactional and lack the trust that defines the doctor-patient relationship. Telehealth, however, preserves—and even enhances—this vital relationship.

According to the AMA’s survey research, 85% of physicians (PDF) are using telehealth, and more than 80% believe that it gives their patients better access to care. That is part of why supporting telehealth is an essential component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.

With telehealth becoming a permanent fixture of our “new normal,” it’s essential that we optimize this experience.

While comparing the intricacies of delivering medical care with the experiences in other industries can be a fraught exercise, it also can be instructive. Let’s explore what a first-class telehealth experience may look like compared to something we’re familiar with: airlines.

Imagine if all your flight information—flight number, seat, departure time and connections—were scattered across disparate systems. You’d have to run to various counters and kiosks for a complete reservation. Not only is this a security risk, but it also fractures the records that could keep you from earning those coveted travel perks.

The problems associated with fragmented information apply to patient care too. That’s why I appreciate my partnership with Privia Health. Their proprietary telehealth platform integrates directly with my partnering physicians’. This helps reduce care gaps and keeps all of that information in one secure place to reduce the administrative burden on the physician.

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Imagine if you received an error when you tried to check in online or print your boarding pass at the self-serve kiosk. That process would be frustrating and, frankly, not worth it. Similarly, when it comes to telehealth, user experience (UX) is key. Consider the following questions about your telehealth’s UX:

  • Is it easy to access?
  • Is there reliable technical support for your patients and staff?
  • What are patients saying about it in your online reviews or patient-satisfaction surveys?
  • If applicable, does the mobile version of the app work just as well as the desktop version?

If patients can access virtual care through your website, it needs to be easy to find and accessible for those with vision or hearing impairments. My website connects to a virtual care platform. The patient simply clicks “Get Care Now” to see me.

Let’s say that somehow, despite all your ticketing and boarding issues, you finally found your seat on the plane, only to realize that your complimentary headphones are missing. But when the flight attendant brings you a pair—an hour later—they don’t even work. The wait, while inconvenient, may not be nearly as frustrating as waiting for something that won’t solve your problem.

Just as travelers want to get what they paid for and for everything to run smoothly, patients should be able to expect the same. They deserve their physician’s time and undivided attention. Still, they might feel as though they didn’t get the  best care if they experience technical difficulties during the virtual visit. Worse yet, the issue may prevent you from seeing your patient altogether.

Beyond the usability of the telehealth platform, examine how yours makes resolving basic technical issues easier for you and your patients. Does it come with best practices and troubleshooting FAQs to help resolve common problems, like granting microphone or video access? A first-class telehealth experience should include support to ensure a smooth visit with few—if any—interruptions.

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A first-class telehealth experience means providing the proper care to patients after the visit and promptly giving them information and instructions.

Offering a virtual visit desktop and a mobile app creates a convenient, streamlined way for patients to access their information. It captures the physician’s notes, prescriptions, and care plans and makes these easily accessible to patients.

Also, it’s critical to have a responsive product and support team that listens to your needs. For example, Privia’s product operations team regularly solicits physician feedback and releases a monthly newsletter to update providers about the newest features.

Finally, a first-class virtual experience should help you just as much as it helps your patients. As primary care physicians, we may struggle to balance caring for others with caring for ourselves. As they say before your flight departs: “Put on your mask before helping others.” In addition to making your patients’ lives easier, your virtual care service should also help you achieve the work-life balance you want.

Dr. Porter is board certified in family medicine and has been practicing primary care and urgent care since 2013. He is the founder of Capital City Primary and Immediate Care, in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is affiliated with Privia Medical Group, an AMA Health System Program member. Dr. Porter also is medical director of Privia Virtual Health and Life Ambulance Services, based in Atlanta.