There’s been a lot of talk about how Telehealth can improve the experience for health practitioners working in private practice, but many practice owners have been hesitant to integrate technology-assisted solutions for fear of compromising client outcomes.
But so far, the research is clear: Telehealth is improving outcomes for private practice clients. There are a number of reasons for this that we’ll dig into but, before we get there, it’s important to understand that Telehealth can be introduced to almost any private practice. In most cases, it won’t completely replace the need for in-person visits but, across the board, from physicians to physiotherapists, psychologists and other disciplines, there has been a noticeable increase in the adoption of Telehealth technology and the top-performing practices in America all have Telehealth features in some shape or form.
COVID-19 has understandably accelerated this shift, but even as the threat of a pandemic passes, it is a change that looks set to stay. In the same way that businesses are evolving to offer remote working solutions for their employees, private practices are adapting to the needs of their clients, many of whom are asking for Telehealth alternatives to the traditional in-person visits. Private practices will still need to be open to changing the way they do things in order to stay relevant in an increasingly-connected (yet decentralised) world.
But what is Telehealth and why do clients want Telehealth options?
Because, for many reasons, technology-assisted treatments are actually improving outcomes for clients.
1. Telehealth improves access to the best care
Clients are now able to choose the practitioner they want to see and not the one who is closest. A client no longer needs to travel across the country to get the help they need and incur high costs, because they can now access the best care thanks to Telehealth solutions. An example of this could be a heart specialist who consults on a client’s case. The client could have all the tests done locally, and the results would be sent to the specialist by the GP to review and advise on.
This also extends to clients who live in rural areas who would otherwise not have access to private practice services or would have to travel large distances to get the help they need. A good example of this is Nebraska’s Children’s Hospital that was plagued with high rates of client no-shows as rural clients would often not be able to make their appointments, especially the seemingly less important follow-up appointments. When the hospital introduced a Telehealth option, the no-show rate dropped by 50%.
2. Practice reduce costs with Telehealth
Travel, child care, even time costs quickly add up, especially if your client is a regular. Telehealth solves these issues by effectively removing many of those barriers. If your private practice can offer a Telehealth solution without compromising on the efficacy of your care, you are effectively offering your clients significant savings on fuel, time spent in traffic, childcare costs and more. This way of thinking is supported by a recent study which showed that around 40% of clients would skip treatments if there were no Telehealth option available, and that the biggest hurdle was travel requirements.
For many people, flexible working hours are not an option, so any healthcare appointments that happen during working hours will require your client to take time off work. This puts stress on your client who may not have sick leave available or holiday time due and will definitely contribute to a decision to skip their appointment. Telehealth offers a degree of flexibility where a client can schedule an appointment when they are on a break, and all they need is an internet connection to dial in. Consider a client who needs a follow-up appointment to check on how a wound is healing. The client could dial in to a call, show the wound using the camera (or send in photos), discuss any concerns and schedule an in-person appointment if needed. No need to book time off, travel across town to the specialist, sit in traffic, or worry about taking a two-hour ‘lunch-break’.
3. Telehealth encourages ownership and engagement
Regardless of your healthcare discipline, most private practice owners know from experience that if you can get clients to engage with the therapy journey, their outcomes are going to be much better. Telehealth encourages clients to take an active role in their own care because they are no longer able to rely on you to do everything. This can mean that a physiotherapy client who never does their at-home exercises is now motivated to engage in their own recovery, rather than waiting for an in-person appointment where their muscles are manipulated manually. Or it might be that a counselling client who has been struggling to make progress is now focused on getting the most out of the sessions and completes the tasks that you set such as keeping a gratitude journal, practising mindfulness or doing regular exercise.
4. Remote options reduce clients’ exposure to sickness
This will depend on the type of private practice that you own. But if you do have sick people coming in, for example, if you’re a general practitioner, it doesn’t make sense for someone who just needs a new script to come into the practice and sit in the waiting room where they might pick up a disease. But even for other private practices, the health threats posed by COVID-19 mean that many people have chosen to stay at home, rather than going to a practice where they might contract the virus. This means that they are missing out on important healthcare interventions. With Telehealth, you’re seeing clients in the comfort of their own home, so they aren’t at risk, but they are still able to access the care they need.
5. Telehealth improves the practitioner-client relationship
This may seem counter-intuitive, but technology is improving the practitioner-client relationship and allowing clients to access a higher level of care. The reason for this is simple: improved communication. High travel and time costs mean that your client is often prohibited from accessing everything that you have to offer. Telehealth cannot mitigate the need for certain in-person visits, but it can take care of many of them, such as check-ups, client education, and follow-up visits.
Put yourself in your client’s shoes for a moment. If they could access your services and expertise without the challenges posed by a busy lifestyle, your client would quickly be empowered to manage their medication, lifestyle choices, and any chronic conditions. This will lead to better outcomes while offering improved efficiency at the same time.
BONUS! Research suggests that Telehealth is making clients happier
If you measure client satisfaction (and you really should), you might be wondering how Telehealth is going to impact your scores. The good news is, research shows that clients who have shifted from in-person visits to Telehealth visits continue to submit near-perfect satisfaction scores. In fact, 76% of private practice clients indicate that they would choose to have a Telehealth appointment over an in-person appointment. That means that, in theory, 3 out of every 4 of your clients would prefer to switch to an online therapy solution. So, you might not even have to convince your clients that moving to Telehealth is the best option; there’s a good chance that they’ve already made the mental shift themselves!
The healthcare industry has lagged behind many other sectors in adopting technology to help improve the level of service and care that is offered to clients. But failure to innovate is going to result in inferior client outcomes and reduced client satisfaction.
Private practices which refuse to move with the times are going to become increasingly outmoded and uncompetitive as clients will flock to providers who are offering the treatment they need in a format that suits the client.
Understandably, many private practice owners have been hesitant to make the switch to online solutions for fear of losing the all-important client connection. But, with research showing that Telehealth has the potential to improve the relationship between client and practitioner, these concerns may no longer be valid. Importantly, Telehealth won’t necessarily replace the in-person appointment for all healthcare disciplines, and many will want to adopt a hybrid approach, but it does open up exciting opportunities for both clients and providers to improve client outcomes.
If you are a private practice owner that has been sitting on the fence, weighing up the benefits of Telehealth technology with the costs, this is your wake-up call! Don’t get left behind; practice management software with telehealth technology has the potential to improve the level of care that you offer your clients (and your bottom line).