Healthcare has historically lagged behind other industries in the transition to digital processes, largely due to a centuries-old tradition of face-to-face interactions. But over the past decade, demand for telehealth has steadily increased. In 2017, 76% of healthcare providers either offered or planned to offer telemedicine services — a significant rise from just a few years earlier.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a new urgency for telehealth and digital communication services — practically overnight. But while nearly every hospital or healthcare provider has adopted some form of HIPAA-compliant chat solution, not all messaging software is created equal. HIPAA and HITECH compliance are only the baseline for compliance — beyond security and regulatory compliance, what else should your healthcare facility look for in a telehealth platform?
Patient-centered communication is key to better experiences and outcomes in remote healthcare settings. As social distancing guidelines stretch on and telehealth solidifies its place in every sector of healthcare, here are five features to look for in your HIPAA-compliant chat API.
Better access to care contributes to better outcomes. And for telehealth solutions, better access means a complete chat experience with easy communication across devices. Your HIPAA-compliant chat SDK should center patients, enabling them to communicate through multiple channels on demand, and allowing them to contact their entire healthcare team. Capabilities like delivery receipts let patients know their messages were received, and visibility into which care providers are online helps them reach the right people at the right times.
Convenience is key for patient-centered telehealth chat. Your messaging portal should enable a saved chat history so patients can easily access records, and providers can benefit from the full context when communicating with patients. Simple capabilities like saved history can make a significant difference in patients’ experiences, saving time and avoiding the frustration of rehashing the same information with a new provider. From offline messaging to translations, the little features of your chat app can make a big difference for patients.
When it comes to telehealth options, text only goes so far. Selecting a rich media-enabled messaging platform enables patients to receive better care and have more efficient interactions with healthcare professionals. The ability to send images, video and audio helps providers gain a more complete understanding of symptoms, and allows messaging to more closely mirror in-person appointments.
Chat solutions that support rich media streamline both patients’ and experts’ experiences, eliminating the ambiguity of text-only communication. People are accustomed to communicating through multimedia messages; accommodating this preference improves your hospital or healthcare institution’s telehealth service.
From casual catch-ups to workplace meetings, many aspects of our lives have shifted to video calls in recent months. This “new normal” communication experience means your patients will expect voice and video capabilities in your HIPAA-compliant chat platform. These features facilitate more engaging telehealth visits and enable personalized face-to face communication that aids in diagnoses.
But telehealth isn’t limited to medicine. Mental health services have also moved online, and chat solutions with voice and video capabilities, enabling providers to pick up on facial expressions and body language cues. Voice and video chat technology helps simulate in-person visits, while providing safe and quality care to patients. In fact, a Massachusetts General Hospital survey showed that 83% of patients found telehealth services to be as good or better than in-person visits—and engaging voice and video experiences certainly contributed to their positive perceptions.
Although we’re spending more time on our devices than ever, it doesn’t necessarily translate to better awareness of time. For many people, time flies in the digital arena, and forgotten meetings or unexpected deadlines frequently pop up on their calendars. That’s why it’s critical to ensure your HIPAA-compliant chat SDK allows patients to receive pre- and post-care notifications. These messages help patients plan their time, while also keeping healthcare facilitates running on time by reducing the risk of late patients throwing off schedules.
Custom push notifications can also improve healthcare outcomes by providing patients with reminders for medications or other wellness follow ups. Email reminders aren’t enough because they lack the element of urgency. With the healthcare industry’s email open rate hovering around 22%, push notifications cut through the noise, helping providers avoid forgotten appointments and improve care.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the U.S. in March, telehealth patient volumes in certain locations shot up 3,000% to 4,000%. While this influx may slow down as it becomes safe to resume in-person visits, demand for virtual care is growing. With more patients opting for telehealth meetings, you need to ensure your HIPAA-compliant communication solution is scalable.
Telehealth solutions have the power to streamline care and produce better patient outcomes, particularly for those with chronic conditions. But enabling positive outcomes begins with a platform that can accommodate a large volume of patients quickly and efficiently. This year has shown us the unpredictability that comes with providing care. Your chat solution must be able to adapt.