“As the paradigm of healthcare delivery evolves towards greater reliance on non-encounter-based digital communications between patients and their care teams, it is critical that our theoretical conceptualization of access undergoes a concurrent paradigm shift to make it more relevant for the digital age.”2
As the world has transitioned from face-to-face doctor visits to the necessity of online healthcare, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have become aware of different aspects and issues within this new kind of care. With required doctor visits becoming remote, it is critical that these e-visits are as seamless as possible.
Unfortunately, many issues have arisen in the necessary surfacing of online telehealth and e-visits. “For many patients, their telemedicine visits are their first virtual care experiences, and for many older physicians, EHRs may have been their first intensive computing experience. To connect to their clinicians, patients navigate instructions, download apps, and check themselves in, oftentimes with little assistance and using a mere 6-inch screen; they could experience difficulties at any step along the way.”1
Whether it be disconnecting mid-appointment or being unable to connect at all, wireless signal issues, log-in and password issues, app failures, or the sharing of personal information over unsafe sources, patients have been experiencing new frustrations and roadblocks in their vital healthcare treatment processes. Patients and healthcare workers who are involved in this process can relate to the stress and pressure from attempting to work through inadequate online healthcare systems. “Pressing the “connect” button with each visit brings uncertainty. Will this work? Will we see and hear them, and will they see and hear us?”1
Research has found the process of connecting to patients online is even more turbulent with older patients, “Data ha[s] shown that up to 38% of older patients are unprepared for telemedicine.”1 When so many patients are struggling with connection, the entire process becomes frustrating and in some cases, even alarming, when the medical care is vital.
One experience of a healthcare office/facility recounts the process they went through in the attempt to accommodate online healthcare with an older patient. In this situation, remote healthcare was necessary and still is for many patients, in general.
“Our digital check-in configuration required our patients to verify their insurance, medications, and electronically sign any required documents, mirroring steps that staff usually take during in-person visits. The unfamiliar user interface, one that required scrolling to read small print on a mobile device, was difficult to overcome, and the user’s frustration was mounting. Despite our digital support center, medical assistants, and adaptation to the new role of digital physicians, we had failed to connect to the patient by video, a fate that became a pattern of a failure of digital care as a whole. In data from our organization’s experience, 1 in 10 scheduled video visits shifted to telephone visits”1
To support the healthcare system and attempt to solve this issue, researchers have found that online healthcare or telehealth platforms/services must be intuitive, user-friendly, and run smoothly for everyone involved. According to the previous account, healthcare workers are finding it critical in this day and age to accommodate and find accessibility to telehealth services that actually meet the requirements of success. When the technology doesn't work for the patient, it doesn't work for the whole system. When the vital communication between a doctor and their patient breaks down, healthcare workers and patients alike are left scrambling to accommodate for the issues that have arisen. “Clinicians must take care of people, not their technology, or so we believe. “The tech just needs to work.”1
Researchers have found key aspects of telehealth software that can be implemented to improve the quality and efficiency of virtual care. “The following 2 principles guide our approach for creating sustainable virtual experiences: (1) intuitive experiences, which aim to make digital care easily accessible across the technological literacy continuum without the need for extensive training and (2) digital navigation and support, which aims to reimagine support for patients as they navigate digitally native health care interactions.”1 The creation of telehealth services that actually support those they are working with and account for the entire system in place, is vital in creating an atmosphere of support and progression, especially in a world where telehealth has become imperative. Intuitive screens within telehealth software set up healthcare systems to better meet the needs of the patients. The idea that virtual patients are able to easily navigate their screens and achieve successful e-visits, is what these services aim for.
“Partnerships with other organizations, such as those that already provide technical support as their core business, may also emerge to better support patients. For example, centralized support stations that can assist patients with telemedicine visits may open, either in satellite clinics, like more traditional telemedicine originating sites.”1
The COVID-19 epidemic pushed healthcare services to change the very way they practiced. New technological advances became essential and continue to be necessary in the post-pandemic world we live in today. As doctors, nurses, and other essential healthcare workers transition to online and hybrid healthcare, it has become obvious that the old ways our technology was utilized will no longer work for the needs of patients and healthcare workers alike. Patients experience new difficulties in attempting to create connections and communicate with their healthcare providers using current and inadequate online services. User-friendly, supportive, and intuitive telehealth experiences are vital moving forward in the use of efficient and improved healthcare systems- on both sides of the connection.
Crotty, B. H., & Somai, M. (2022, April 22). Bugs in the Virtual Clinic: Confronting Telemedicine’s challenges through empathy and support. Journal of participatory medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9077509/
JC, F., JF Jr, B., & PJ, K. (n.d.). A re-conceptualization of access for 21st century healthcare. Europe PMC. https://europepmc.org/article/MED/21989616