We are rolling out and back in of the coronavirus pandemic at varying speeds around the country and hospitals, clinics, and physician offices are trying to lure customers back for the care that has been deferred or delayed.

Lillian Suwanrumpha AFP Getty Images

Telehealth has forever changed the healthcare
delivery landscape. Many consumers experienced
telehealth for the first time during the pandemic
because it became the only way to access
healthcare. It was also the safest way to access non-
emergency care. I took a neighbor to the ER and
found that even emergency care had turned into a
drop-off event. No one was allowed into the ER
except the patient as a precaution to prevent the spread of the virus.

Getting healthcare has not ever been convenient or geared toward the consumer. Due to our country’s dysfunctional payment system, healthcare providers have always been forced to focus on volume of visits and tests in order to make ends meet. This system has been thrown into chaos by the coronavirus pandemic’s shelter-in-place order that caused nearly all healthcare organizations to close except for diagnosis and treatment of the virus.

After languishing with low adoption for years, telehealth rocketed overnight into the mainstream of healthcare. It became the safest way to initially screen patients for the coronavirus as well as triage for urgent care conditions.

As facts emerged about who appeared to be at higher risk and how the virus spread from person to person, people became wary about being around other people without some kind of protection. The virus took on a dangerous characteristic with the ability to infect others even though individuals might not show any symptoms. That made staying away from others a higher priority.

We are at inflection point with the healthcare delivery system. Now that many people were forced to have virtual visits because of the pandemic, they now are used to it and more importantly, they learned how to do a telehealth visit. And 91% had a positive experience and 79% said they will do it again. This is definitely the safest doctor visit. No contact with people to have a doctor visit means no exposure.

What will patients think about going into a clinic or doctor’s office again? They want a visit that isn’t the way it was before—crowded, waiting a long time, and mingling with sick people. They expect it to be a safer visit. They will want to know: page1image34739280 page1image34739696

  1.  What physical barriers are in place to protect me and my family? Are there barriers between me and others (patients and staff)
  2. How is social distancing implemented inside?
  3. Do I need to sit with other people inside or is waiting in my car an option?
  4. How contact-free is the entire visit (excepting the doctor’s exam)? Is filling out a paper form still needed. Can most of the pre-visit questions be answered at home before arriving at the office?

Pediatric practitioners who want their patients to get immunizations, these steps are an absolute must to make the parents feel that the child and parent won’t get infected from going into the doctor’s office. Providers need to spend the time communicating this to their patients. Otherwise, they won’t know how things have changed, and will check out other providers. Hint: Look at the messages that restaurants are sending out explaining how the physical changes and service have been modified to make dining safe by following CDC, local government, and other health guidelines.

Telehealth won’t go away. If anything, it will be expanded to enable providers to care for their patients better and more safely even when the risk of COVID-19 decreases. It saves the patient from taking off work, travel time, waiting time, and is more convenient. With the experience acquired by healthcare consumers during this public health crisis, telehealth will soon become the go-to method for seeking care first. Office visits will still be necessary for physical evaluations and treatments.

Have you taken advantage of telehealth to safely care for your patients during the pandemic? Call on outside expertise to implement the right system and best practices.
What needs to be done to lower the risk and increase the safety of office visits?
Have you let your patients know what you’ve done for their safety and peace of mind? Don’t assume that they will know.

Healthcare is now a competitive business. Are you keeping up?