How Telemedicine Helps Healthcare Organizations Improve Patient Engagement and Satisfaction
(Health Tech) – About three years ago, Dr. Alfred Atanda was in southern Delaware, about 100 miles from the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, where he is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. Atanda happened to stop in a beach shop owned by the father of a recent post-op patient, where he learned that the patient was having trouble with his brace.
Atanda and the patient’s father called the boy, who was having trouble explaining the problem. So Atanda started an impromptu video chat. He looked at the brace via the video chat, showed the boy how to adjust it, and also asked him about his appetite and other aspects of his recovery.
Driving home, Atanda realized the family had made the same 200-mile drive several times — sometimes for follow-up appointments that were no more than five minutes.
“I couldn’t believe I’d seen him six times in the office — and every time, dad closes the shop, and the son takes off time from school,” he says. The patient had another appointment in two days, but he told the family not to come. This experience helped crystalize the power and value of telemedicine for both patient and doctor convenience.
Telemedicine technology is already at work improving the patient and provider experience in many innovative organizations. At the Cleveland Clinic, the telemedicine program encompasses a wide range of technology — from connected devices to virtual visits to remote imaging transfers — which are used inside the hospital and in a patient’s home, says Dr. Peter Rasmussen, the organization’s medical director of distance health.
“The Cleveland Clinic has four pillars of operations: patient access, the patient experience, patient safety and patient retention,” he says. “Telemedicine helps us in all of those regards. We believe that every caregiver can use some kind of digital tech in care delivery.”
For the Cleveland Clinic, Nemours and other healthcare organizations, telemedicine can play a key role in improving both patient engagement — the extent to which patients participate in their own care — as well as patient satisfaction — the degree to which patients recommend an organization’s services.
At Nemours, Atanda conducts two or three virtual visits per day. These appointments revolve around information transfer, he says — reviewing a recent MRI, conducting preoperation counseling or following up after a surgery. Visits typically take place in the hours before or after patients go to school or their parents go to work.
In postvisit satisfaction surveys, 98 percent of patients says they would be interested in future telemedicine visits, and 99 percent would recommend telemedicine, Atanda reports in a recent paper for The BMJ. “I keep people out of office who don’t need to be there,” he says, adding that this also lets the practice keep slots open for potential new surgery candidates.
A desire to keep patients out of the hospital drives many of the Cleveland Clinic’s telemedicine initiatives, Rasmussen says. He notes that, as a hospital with an international presence, many patients could otherwise travel for hours for appointments that may take less than 15 minutes. One example is bone marrow transplants. Patients who undergo this procedure face a high risk of infection, as their immune systems are compromised, and often take medication that increases their blood pressure, Rasmussen says.
Traditionally, these patients return to the hospital every day for temperature and blood pressure readings. This places a burden on patients, and it also means being in a facility where germs can run rampant. Now, through a telemedicine program, bone marrow transplant patients can go home with a blood pressure cuff, thermometer and activity tracker. Nurses can monitor patients’ progress from afar and reach out only to those patients who are not making progress, Rasmussen says.
A similar obstetrics program allows women with low-risk pregnancies to measure their weight, blood pressure and urine analysis at home, using equipment supplied by Cleveland Clinic. The women then participate in video visits with their obstetrician, who have access to the data collected by their patients.
“If you’re a busy mom, you don’t want to be wasting your time going to the doctor for all this,” says Rasmussen, noting that women typically have at least nine appointments with an obstetrician before giving birth. “This is a 1- to 2-minute video visit. It’s incredibly convenient for the woman and the caregivers.”
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