As we discussed in the first two blogs of this series, before the onset of COVID-19, virtual care was used rather infrequently, in fact few health systems even provided the option for receiving care. However, when the pandemic struck, we saw many organizations pivot quickly and rapidly implement virtual care programs to expand access to safe and timely care. And for the most part, patients eagerly adopted it and have been overwhelmingly satisfied with their virtual care experiences. In fact, our recent report, Patient Perspectives on Virtual Care, found that almost three-quarters of respondents wanted the option of virtual visits as part of their standard care moving forward and half would switch providers for the offering. Even now, as some health systems have resumed in-person visits, the desire for virtual visits remains high–many of our customers are still seeing the same number of virtual visits as they did this summer.
However, with COVID-19 cases across the country rising again, virtual care is not simply a consumer desire, it is a necessity. Therefore, now is the time for health systems to build upon their existing programs, leverage their learnings, and scale their existing offerings, not only to navigate waves of COVID-19 more effectively, but also to capture the rising demand for more convenient care. In this blog, we will focus on three ways to invest in your virtual care program and differentiate your offerings.
1. Scale Virtual Care Offerings with Different Appointment Types & Methods of Receiving Care
While more than half of patients surveyed indicated that they would utilize virtual care for all visit types, respondents also said that they want access to virtual wellness check-ins, surgery/procedure related visits, and consults/follow ups moving forward. Patients have become accustomed to the ease of being able to do things from the comfort of their home, and they don’t want that to end with their healthcare. To meet this desire for convenient care, as well as capture additional demand, health systems should expand the types of virtual appointments consumers can access. Additionally, this will be even more important as COVID-19 cases continue to rise this fall and consumers cannot receive in-person care–or are too scared to go into a hospital or provider office.
Beyond appointment types, health systems should also consider expanding the number of ways in which they can facilitate virtual visits. Our survey found that most patients (69%) preferred to conduct their appointment via live video chat, while the remainder chose a phone-based appointment. Offering both options will allow health systems to cast a wider net to those who may not have access to live video technology. This, in conjunction with offering more appointment types, will enable you to both stand out from your competitors and increase the overall satisfaction of your patients.
2. Enable Online Booking for Virtual Visits
Even though most of our survey respondents scheduled their virtual visit by phone, many expressed a desire to be able to do so online. With ⅔ of commercially insured respondents indicating that they would rather book online, healthcare organizations have the opportunity to elevate their offerings by enabling consumers to self-schedule virtual visits online.
However, as we discussed in the first blog of this series, virtual care is new to many of us, so it’s important that health systems educate consumers about their offerings and drive awareness for them, especially within their provider search experience. For example, showcase which providers are offering virtual care visits on your website and make sure to indicate which ones enable online scheduling for the appointments too. Additionally, consider generating awareness for your virtual care offerings through marketing emails and advertising campaigns by letting patients know about the different departments offering these visits and how to access them. By enabling patients to book appointments online, as well as driving awareness for this ability, your organization will be able to not only attract new patients, but also delight existing ones.
3. Make Sure to Clarify Next Steps at the End of the Visit
A patient’s experience with virtual care doesn’t end once their appointment is completed. Although many patients reported having positive experiences with their virtual care visits, almost half of them were unclear about what came next. How could they book their next virtual visit? How will their PCP receive the documentation from the visit they just had? Will the doctor be reaching out to them about follow up care?
This breakdown in communication can leave patients feeling confused and overwhelmed, possibly deterring them from using the service in the future. To ensure that patients feel confident about what lies ahead, make sure that the next steps are clearly laid out for them. Have clear communication on both your website and other patient communication channels on how they are able to book virtual care visits with your organization. Set expectations on how their visit will be shared with their care team by informing them ahead of time how the visit information will be relayed to those involved. Lastly, be sure that appropriate follow up is done in a timely manner so that the patient feels as though the experience and level of care that they receive virtually is consistent to that of an in-person appointment.
While the nature of COVID-19 is unpredictable and constantly evolving, health systems worldwide are realizing the importance of making a permanent investment in virtual care. Many patients are still uneasy about going into brick and mortar locations for routine care, especially with flu season right around the corner. With the uncertainty of what fall and winter will bring, virtual care offerings have an essential role to play in helping organizations ensure access to safe and timely care.
Looking for more information on virtual care? Read the other two blogs in this series: