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7 Steps To Educating Patients About Telehealth

Teresa Iafolla

Written by Teresa Iafolla

For many patients today, telehealth and telemedicine are no longer unfamiliar terms. Thanks to wide adoption of telemedicine by insurance companies and large direct-consumer care telemedicine companies like Teladoc, more patients than ever recognize virtual care as a new, acceptable way to see a doctor.

But there are still some patients who need a bit more education. Maybe they haven’t heard about the new wave of online, connected care models. Maybe they’ve heard of telehealth, but they’re unsure about how to get started. Or maybe they just need a little guidance on the specific kind of telemedicine services your practice is now offering.

If you’re just starting up the “virtual care” side of your practice, there are a few key tips you should know on how to talk to patients about the telemedicine services you’ll be providing. Beyond just educating them about telehealth, you want to get them excited about the possibilities and the benefits to them!

Here are 7 important tips to remember as you spread the news about your exciting new telehealth program.

1) Emphasize the benefits to patients.

We included this point first for a reason – it’s probably the most important thing to remember! Always focus on what the benefits of telehealth are for your patients. Think about it from the patient’s perspective. If you’re now offering same-day virtual appointments for urgent issues, that allows patients to get quick care, skip travel to your office, and see you instead of ending up at an expensive, unfamiliar urgent care center.

Whether you’re talking directly to patients about your telehealth services, or writing up a description for your practice website, always focus on why patients should want to do telehealth appointments.

2) Share a brochure or “cheatsheet” about telehealth.

It’s always a good idea to have something tangible to give to patients about your telehealth program. Whether that’s a professionally designed brochure, or a simple one-sheet print-out with basic information, it can be used to start a conversation about virtual care, serve as the patient’s “reference guide” as they’re doing their first telehealth appointment, or as a simple reminder that virtual care is now an option.

3) Stay away from medical jargon.

Whenever you talk about telehealth with your patients, try to avoid medical jargon or any terms you think they may not understand. Depending on your patient population, this may even mean avoiding the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine.” Instead, you may want to use “online appointments,” “virtual care,” or “videochat your doctor,” for example.

You may also want to show rough draft of any materials or descriptions to someone outside the medical field to get their impressions. Were there any terms that confused them? If they were a patient, would they be able to understand what kind of new service you’re offering, why it’s great, and how to do it?

4) Give patient an opportunity to ask questions.

When you introduce your telehealth program, always encourage a dialogue with your patients. This can mean starting a conversation about it in-office, maybe at the end of their appointment as you hand them a brochure about it. You could have staff wear buttons that say “ask me about scheduling virtual appointments,” or include a sign at the front-desk that says the same. On any brochures, mailings, or emails that you send out, include a line that says “Have questions about how online care works? Call this number.”

All of these tactics actively encourage patients to ask questions about the program, so that they can air any concerns or hesitations and quickly get those addressed. When they have the opportunity to talk about new telehealth options, especially with their trusted doctor, they’re more likely to feel comfortable trying them.

5) Start a conversation in-office.

You don’t just have to wait for patients to ask questions about telehealth. You should also actively start conversations. Briefly bring up virtual appointments at the end of patient visits as you hand them some materials with more information. Consider hosting a “telehealth open-house” at your practice, where you do a demo virtual visit for any patients who want to see how it works. You could also have staff mention virtual visits as they’re calling to confirm patient appointments.

6) Show patients how it works.

Most people are immediately more comfortable with something new once they can visualize the process and know what to expect. The same goes for telehealth. When patients can visualize how a telehealth visit with you will work, they’re more likely to try it.

Remember this as you’re sharing the news about your virtual care program. On your brochures, website, or any materials about the program, include a quick step-by-step guide on how the visit will work from the patient’s perspective. For example, you might say:

  • Step 1 – visit evisit.com/practicename and create your eVisit account
  • Step 2 – fill out the enrollment questions (medical history)
  • Step 3 – schedule a virtual visit with your doctor
  • Step 4 – login to your eVisit account at the time of your scheduled appointment
  • Step 5 – Videochat your doctor online and share your concerns
  • Step 6 – pick up your prescription at your preferred pharmacy, and take care of any follow-up instructions from your doctor

Listing out the steps (and including a few icons or pictures, if you can!) will help clear up any confusion about how to schedule a virtual visit, and set patients’ expectations.

7) Tell patients what equipment they need.

Chances are, most patients already have all the equipment they need to do a telehealth visit. But some patients may assume they don’t and that they need to purchase something additional.

Be clear about what equipment they need. Depending on what telehealth app or software you’re using, the list could vary, but the basics are:

  • Computer, smartphone, tablet (you may want to list out specific devices if the app only works on certain ones)
  • Microphone (if not included in the mobile device or computer)
  • Webcam (If not included in the mobile device or computer)

Overall, there’s really one secret to educating your patients about telehealth: put yourself in the patient’s shoes. As you market your new telehealth program, analyze any materials or descriptions you write from your patients’ perspectives. If you do that, you’re guaranteed to get your patients trying virtual care in no time!

Published: July 13, 2016