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Six steps to ensure your future telehealth success

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Your success or lack thereof will rest upon patient loyalty.

This is an article about the future battle between telehealth and telewealth. Telehealth - the version of telemedicine most of you practiced during the pandemic - will be pitted against telewealth, the Amazonization of healthcare in which patient care becomes a commodity. Your success or lack thereof will rest upon patient loyalty. That bears repeating: your success or lack thereof will rest upon patient loyalty.Please permit me to explain.

Amazon, CVS, United Healthcare, and other conglomerates are investing serious resources (aka telewealth) into taking away your core business: patient care. I imagine artificial intelligence and treatment algorithms will be part of their strategy, yet the main strategy will be convenience: healthcare when a patient wants it, where a patient wants it.

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Think about it: so many of us want to support local business, but time after time we succumb to Amazon’s advances. In the absence of a personal relationship with a retailer, convenience trumps loyalty time and time again.You cannot compete with the convenience of 24/7/365, but you can compete – and win - on loyalty. I believe it is the key.

Here are six steps I urge you to take:

  • Read Peter Shankman’s Zombie Loyalists. The core message is that the best marketing you can have consists of employees and patients who are rabid fans of your practice. You want to be so good that your staff and patients rave about you and the care you provided. Despite its title, Zombie Loyalists has nothing to do with zombies and everything to do with your future success. It is a wonderful read.
  • Engage a company such as rater8 or Birdseye to increase your online reviews. A large number of positive online reviews accompanied by personal attestations will draw new patients.
    • Here’s an example from my former practice of 30+ providers. Over fifteen months, we had 135 reviews with 102 comments and an average score of 4.0. We then retained rater8 and hit gold.Over the first four months, we had 2,868 reviews with 800 comments and an average score of 4.8. The average score went up because rater8 made it easy for happy patients to post comments and ratings, whereas before unhappy patients were more likely to go online and rate us. Not coincidentally, new patient demand increased significantly.
  • Outservice your competition by finding your glue. Why do your patients stick with you? If you don’t know, ask them. You must nurture loyalty.
    • Listen with your ears and your eyes. Give the patient in front of you your undivided attention.Make that patient feel special. Start on time, and run on time. If you are running behind – even just a couple of minutes – apologize. And always thank your patient for entrusting their care in you.
    • Make it personal. Add reminders in your notes – e.g., patient enjoys playing golf at Lakeside, daughter is a freshman at LSU – to affirm your patient is more than just a chart number.
    • Expect your staff to do the same. They are an extension of you and can make or break you easily. Employees who do not connect with your patients are not the employees you want.
    • Use online registration and other tools to eliminate the dreaded ‘arrive 30 minutes early for your appointment’.
    • Avoid banker’s hours. Like it or not, you will need to offer hours more convenient for patients.
  • Make your telehealth better than their telewealth. Think about it from the patient’s perspective: what makes for a great in-person visit? Now, look at how you can incorporate the best of an in-person visit into a telehealth visit. Your competition is telewealth - which has convenience on its side – so make it personal. The tools above in #3 are a starter.
  • Measure and share your quality scores. This could be a key differentiator, especially if your scores are consistently in the top quintile or decile. It’s peace of mind for a patient knowing their doctor is at the top.
  • Share the importance of continuity of care. There’s a strong argument to be made that impersonal, episodic care costs more in the long run. Make sure your patients know consistent care is cost-effective care.

I am a big believer in the sacrosanct physician-patient relationship, so I hope I am wrong about telewealth. I just don’t think I am. You need to prepare to compete on this new playing field. And if telewealth doesn’t come to pass, the steps above will make your practice stronger. Embrace the opportunity to make your patients and staff your biggest fans.

After a 15-month fight with Long COVID, author Lucien W. Roberts, III, MHA, FACMPE, retired in February 2022 on the advice of his primary care doctor and his wife…perhaps not in that order.Writing is one of the therapies he is using to improve his brain fog.He may be reached at lroberts@theinfusionsolution.com.


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