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July 16, 2018

Want to Delight Patients? Boost Telehealth Adoption

It’s routine. “There’s an app for that.” Who among us hasn’t uttered those words? We use our smartphones to summon rides to the airport, order takeout, and buy groceries. Conveniences that were unthinkable only a few years ago are now old habits. With advances and innovations coming at us so quickly, we are hardly surprised when another great idea becomes part of our regular routine. Once there was a time when we would have said, “What will they think of next?” Now we more often wonder, “Why didn’t we think of this before?”

But in healthcare, this kind of innovation seems to happen much more slowly, and adoption of new technologies can be glacial. Take telehealth.

Interestingly though, only 19 percent have taken advantage of their provider’s telehealth offerings.

We’ve heard over and over that virtual care is the next big thing in healthcare. That millennials and large swaths of other generations crave convenience and speed over in-person interaction. The Advisory Board found that 77 percent of patients are willing to use virtual care. They know they could save money, time and hassle by using virtual visits. Interestingly though, only 19 percent have taken advantage of their provider’s telehealth offerings.

So what gives? Why aren’t more of them doing so?

In this three-part series, we’ll explore what’s holding patients back from giving telehealth a try, and how we can help them overcome those barriers.

Part 1: Build awareness with marketing and communication

One reason virtual care hasn’t taken off as predicted is that many patients are unaware the service is available to them. That means the onus is on us to inform patients of the benefits of using telehealth.

One of the most trusted sources of health information is the clinician. If patients hear about telehealth services from their trusted primary care provider, they are far more likely to give it a try. In fact, patients with chronic conditions are almost twice as likely to use virtual care if their primary physician recommends it. That said, recommendations from insurance providers and employers can also drive virtual care adoption. And that means we need to secure buy-in from those constituents—physicians in particular.

The best kind of marketing is the kind you can’t buy—word of mouth.

It follows that tech-savvy consumers are the most likely patients to try telehealth, which means delivering the message to them through social media and targeted digital campaigns is the most effective. An added benefit to digital marketing is the ability to target specific groups. Treatment for UTIs and birth control will appeal far more to your female patients within a certain age group, for example.

The best kind of marketing is the kind you can’t buy—word of mouth. Patients who have had a positive experience with telehealth will tell their friends and family about it. Create ways that make it easy for your patients to share their enthusiasm. Send them feedback forms, online surveys, and the ability to post to their social networks. Then watch the referrals come in.

When we’re talking about new healthcare technologies and how to promote them, it’s easy to overlook traditional forms of advertising and marketing. But in-office posters and pamphlets are still effective at driving patients to adopt new care delivery platforms. Community advertising—in the form of billboards, radio and tv spots, and direct mail pieces—can change behavior as well.

We know that patients are willing to give virtual health a try, and that once they do, they have a good experience and are more likely to use it again. The chasm between those who are willing to use it and those who have actually taken advantage of it can be bridged by strategic marketing and good communication.

In part two, we will explore another obstacle to patient adoption: concerns about quality.

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