Recent research has shown that women have been more receptive than men to receiving their healthcare through telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. One study published in June 2020 found women ages 18 to 44 were more likely than men to choose a video or telephone visit versus in-person. Similarly, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that 38 percent of women and 32 percent of men completed a telehealth appointment between March and December 2020.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association echoed these findings, but shed a different light on telehealth adoption, looking deeper at the type of care patients received. Researchers found that while telehealth patients were more likely to be women, they “had lower rates of using telemedicine for specialty care and of using video for virtual calls overall.” The KFF survey also found that more women than men skipped preventive care during the pandemic, which could result in care gaps that will need to be addressed to prevent a worsening chronic condition or detect the early stages of a potential health problem.
Given this risk to patients’ health, the following are three practical tips to re-engage them through telehealth. These tips are not exclusive to your female patient population, and you will likely be able to apply the tactics to all of your patients who might be resisting telehealth use:
1. Let them know what to expect. Remember that most patients are unfamiliar with telehealth. This could lead to skipped appointments and further delayed care. To boost patient comfort and confidence, some upfront operational and financial explanation is a good idea. For example, within your practice’s pre-visit communication, provide insight into what they can expect from the visit. If you’re using an all-in-one solution that includes scheduling, check-in and telehealth, let patients know they can expect to schedule and check-in virtually as if it’s an in-office visit. If you’re using a comprehensive telehealth solution like Epion Health, you should let patients know that, just like the in-person visit, they will wait in a virtual waiting room, and the first step will be the patient talking with a medical assistant or similar care provider to complete a full clinical intake.
It’s also important to educate patients that telehealth services are likely covered by their insurance, including Medicare. As of April 2021, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) were extending reimbursement parity and relaxation of rules for patient location for telehealth services that began during the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous private payers followed suit, but others have since reverted to pre-COVID-19 reimbursement policies, so be sure to check the health plan beforehand, and notify the patient if services are not covered. Also, let patients know what services your practice is offering and treating through telehealth.
2. Invite them to participate via video. If the session has already begun, and the patient’s video is off, invite your patient to participate with video. Some patients, however, may not be tech-savvy. “Most of my video visits are spent looking at the ceiling fan,” said a clinician from a healthcare organization serving a predominately senior-aged population. In an interview with this clinician and others, they describe overcoming these technical challenges by conducting “practice visits,” where an assistant would conduct a simulated video visit prior to the first video visit with the clinician. As a result, the experience for both provider and patient improved substantially.
At a minimum, though, at the beginning of the visit, you can take a few minutes to explain the technology, such as mute control, and ask if the patient is having any issues turning on the camera. This article offers additional insight into the technical and workflow aspects of telehealth and how to cultivate your “webside manner.”
3. Remind them of the benefits of a virtual video visit. Research conducted only a couple of years before the pandemic found that video-based patient encounters resulted in fewer medication errors, greater diagnostic accuracy and improved decision-making when compared to telephone-only encounters. If the patient refuses to use video, remind them that the visit will be most effective if you’re able to see and assess their problem. In addition, explaining to the patient that video is not only more helpful to you but can improve their experience as well and make it easier to communicate might encourage more patients to utilize video. If the patient still refuses, try to empathetically explore his or her objections with some non-confrontational questions to understand their feelings, which can heighten engagement by nurturing greater openness and trust.
Finally, if you’ve chosen a HIPAA-compliant telehealth solution, remind your patients that the visit is over a secure connection, and the visit—just like an in-office visit—will remain confidential.
Nurturing Care Equality
Providers strive for healthcare equality across their organizations, including when it comes to patient engagement. The rapid telehealth adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, has revealed some of the healthcare inequities between men and women while offering some opportunities for how providers can help correct this gender-related imbalance. Through education and encouragement about virtual care, providers can deepen engagement among female patients, which, in turn, also can benefit their male patients.
Learn more about how Epion Health can strengthen patient engagement via telehealth.