Telehealth has revolutionized healthcare – making it possible to receive a doctor’s visit from multiple devices and locations. During the pandemic, consumer telehealth adoption skyrocketed as a safe alternative to the physical doctor’s office. In addition, the pandemic lifted many state licensing restrictions to make it easier for patients to access the care they need.
The convenience and improved access have made telehealth an enduring medium for healthcare. This new medium also created opportunities for innovation. Now, companies have the opportunity to reframe and rethink the patient experience.
The Emergence of the Consumer-Telehealth Model
A new breed of e-commerce companies has emerged that offer prescription products directly to patients (For example, Hims, Hers, Wisp, and numerous prescription skincare companies). They utilize telehealth as a core part of their user experience, giving patients access to products that, in the past, haven’t been as easily available.
These companies are reframing the traditional healthcare model where the patient schedules an appointment, waits, and visits the doctor to review their symptoms, then, when prescribed, goes to the pharmacy to fill their prescription. Instead, these companies borrow a page from e-commerce models, giving patients solutions upfront and a seamless doctor and fulfillment experience. These models provide patients with near-instant access, or at least within a few days, to prescription products- eliminating the need to wait for an appointment or visit a pharmacy.
The shift to a consumer telehealth experience brings a more personalized and user-friendly service. Take, for example, the intake form. In the traditional model of care, a patient’s office visit starts by filling out numerous duplicative forms, most of which are designed for insurance purposes rather than optimized for patient care.
In contrast – the consumer telehealth experience, the intake is streamlined and personalized, removing duplicative work and inefficiencies to create a much smoother process for the patient. These design improvements are a welcome change to an archaic system. However, it’s critical that the design of a consumer telehealth experience is distinctly different than that of a traditional shopping flow.
Considering the Patient as a Consumer
The biggest difference in designing a telehealth experience from a traditional shopping experience is recognizing that the customer is not a typical shopper. Rather, they are a patient who is on a health journey.
Contrary to a shopper’s needs, the patient’s needs around health issues are not always clear to them initially. Their needs may be driven by complex medical factors and emotional components. Patients require education, guidance, and even gentle challenges from providers to articulate their needs and identify optimal solutions fully.
The patient journey involves more careful research and decision-making than routine online shopping. There are risks, trade-offs, and unknowns to consider regarding medical treatment that are not present in a typical e-commerce transaction.
Jumping the Line Between Retail and Healthcare
When shopping, consumers may browse multiple products and evaluate them to decide which product best fits their motivations and needs. In contrast, in a healthcare model, the patient presents with symptoms and may do preliminary research but ultimately relies heavily on the expertise of doctors to troubleshoot and guide them to the right treatment plan or next steps.
It can be challenging for consumer-patients to toggle between the mode of shopping, where they independently decide on the right product, and receiving medical care, where the doctor guides treatment decisions. That shift can bring unwanted expectations and disappointment. For example, when the consumer-patient is in shopping mode, they expect a typical e-commerce transaction where they place an order and receive the product in a timely manner.
However, in this new model, they must wait for the doctor to review their health history to determine if the product will meet their needs, then prescribe treatment that may not be the product they initially wanted.
Ways to ease the transition between shopping and care:
- Don’t just tout product benefits; also be upfront about risks, side effects, eligibility criteria, and other considerations to set appropriate expectations.
- Use the intake process to identify any high risks or obvious ineligibility early on before patients get attached to a specific product or treatment.
- Provide explanations, alternative options, and resources if a patient is ineligible for a certain product or treatment they expected.
- Don’t shy away from necessary medical terms, but do provide helpful definitions and education for complex topics.
- Set expectations for a time lag between checkout and receiving the product, incorporating the time for the doctor’s review.
- Reinforce patient privacy, security, and confidentiality.
Establishing Trust Between Patients and Providers
Telehealth, by definition, is remote care. Appointments happen over video or often through asynchronous methods like secure messaging. While convenient, this remote medium can alter the traditional structure of the doctor-patient relationship to feel more casual. Additionally, we now live in a world filled with chatbots and algorithms in our digital service. It can be challenging for patients to discern if they are communicating with a real doctor. However, specific strategies can foster trust and rapport between patients and providers in a digital environment:
- Profile pages highlighting providers’ credentials and backstories help assure patients that they are receiving care from qualified medical professionals.
- Incorporating video snippets and provider photos can give a face and voice to humanize doctors.
- Listening actively and personalizing care recommendations demonstrates genuine interest in patients as individuals.
- Consistent follow-through and accessibility builds confidence in the ongoing relationship.
Thoughtfully designed credibility cues can help build an environment of trust and genuineness.
Creating a Model for Ongoing Care and Retention
One major advantage of telehealth is its ability to facilitate seamless follow-up care and communication between patients and providers between appointments. The convenience of video visits or asynchronous secure messaging within telehealth platforms creates a more accessible environment for patients to sustain contact with their healthcare team over time. Patients can easily log in to ask questions, report on symptoms, or request prescription adjustments without the hassle of scheduling and attending additional in-person appointments.
With thoughtful features and messaging built into the telehealth platform, providers can also encourage patients to stick to prescribed treatment regimens and provide systematic feedback on how new medications are working. Fostering this type of continuous, personalized care has tangible benefits for improving patient outcomes and experiences that strengthen patient-provider relationships and loyalty to the telehealth service
Ways to promote ongoing care:
- Build in prompts for providers to periodically check in on the patients’ experience and progress.
- Set up structured treatment plans where patients can self-monitor symptoms/results and report back on product effectiveness.
- Commit to helping patients find the optimal medication dose through persistent adjustments and troubleshooting.
- Use motivational prompts and tools like goal setting, medication reminders and health tracking to empower patients to commit to their health and treatment plan.
The Evolving Model of Telehealth and Consumer-Centered Care
As our mental models for healthcare shift and evolve, consumer telehealth companies have an opportunity to reimagine the doctor-patient relationships. As they continue to innovate to make access to prescriptions more convenient and efficient, the most disruptive and impactful telehealth innovations will be those that resist treating medicine as transactional but strive to understand patient needs. The consumer telehealth companies that provide structures to create trust, empathy, and ongoing patient support are poised to shape the future of healthcare for the better.
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