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Improve senior patient communication with technology

Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics March 2021
Volume 98
Issue 3

Good communication can result not only in more efficient, effective care, but also greater patient satisfaction with treatment, and this is particularly true with aging patients.

We know relationship building is critical to improving patient outcomes, and strong communication is especially important. Good communication can result not only in more efficient, effective care, but also greater patient satisfaction with treatment, and this is particularly true with aging patients.

Although the manner in which physicians communicate with patients is incredibly important for better outcomes, the means by which they do so also have a big impact on care. One of the primary ways provider-patient communication has evolved, particularly this past year as a result of COVID-19, is through the rise of technology-driven communications, specifically virtual care and telehealth.

Many may argue that virtual care and telehealth will never fully replace in-person care for seniors, and research shows that is likely true even after increased adoption during the pandemic. According to a June 2020 survey of adults 50 to 80 years old by the University of Michigan, more than 50% of respondents still perceive office visits as providing higher overall quality of care, and barriers to adoption and accessibility of technology remain for many seniors. Even if they do not become the primary sources of health care for seniors in the immediate future, telehealth is providing an opportunity to improve communications to meet the needs of this rapidly growing patient population.

Filling the gaps in care

An obvious way technology can improve patient communication is by making it more accessible. Physicians can meet in person with a limited number of patients each day, and many seniors face transportation challenges. Telemedicine in the form of traditional, video-enabled primary care doctor visits alleviates many of those challenges and makes it easier for patients to connect with physicians or support staff between appointments. According to the same University of Michigan poll, 72% of respondents expressed interest in using telehealth for follow-up questions with a doctor they had already seen. Offering telemedicine as a supplemental method of communication with patients helps open more channels of communication throughout the care journey.

Enlisting support

Another benefit of virtual communication is its ability to drive better care plan adoption among patients. For example, a study looked at patients’ understanding of newly prescribed medications after hospital discharge. It found that although 86% of patients were aware they had been prescribed new medications, only 64% could identify the name of the medication and merely 11% could recall being told of potential adverse effects. Digital communication can better ensure patient adherence through increased follow-ups, whether through physicians and support staff personally checking on a patient’s status or automated call or text messages about medication reminders or lifestyle changes. Increased engagement can also enable providers and patients to bring more stakeholders into the conversation, including family members or caretakers.

Real-time window

One of the most significant advantages to virtual care is the real-time lens it provides into a patient’s home life and social determinants that may exist. Whether it is the clutter that may increase a patient’s risk of falling or the isolation that may negatively affect mental health, the information you can gather by connecting with a patient in their home environment can have an important impact on care plan adherence and overall health outcomes. Most importantly, these real-time insights enable providers to intervene more quickly and collaborate with other members of the patient’s care team to develop solutions before deterioration or hospitalization occur. With close to 75% of Medicare hospital readmissions being identified as preventable, the real-time insights gained from various aspects of virtual care can play an important role in necessary proactive care management.

Higher satisfaction

Many aspects of virtual care can lead patients to feel more in control of their health care journeys. Empowering patients to decide where, when and how they prefer to engage with their care team means they are more likely to have a satisfying care experience. Best of all, increased payer reimbursement and revenue sources for telehealth means practices no longer can have greater confidence in pursuing virtual health, and reap the many benefits of virtual patient communications, a win-win for all stakeholders involved.

David Hunt is the founder at Cosán Group. Send your technology questions to medec@mjhlifesciences.com.

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