By Mandy Roth
The advent of COVID-19 has fueled the rise of telemedicine, accelerating growth beyond what was even imaginable only three months ago. Along with this phenomenon, a related mystery has been seemingly solved: can patients be as satisfied with virtual interactions as they are with in-person encounters?
According to a new, large-scale Press Ganey survey, that answer is yes. The South Bend, Indiana-based company, known for its patient satisfaction surveys, took a deep look into comparing the two forms of provider-patient interactions and found that “virtual visits can achieve similar ratings for patient experience as in-person visits, with some specific differences in methods of care delivery,” according to a news release.
“The rapid adoption of telehealth has enabled caregivers to meet the needs of patients with the levels of attentiveness, expertise, and empathy provided during an in-office visit,” said Patrick T. Ryan, chairman and CEO of Press Ganey. “If caregivers actively adapt their processes and behaviors to the telemedicine environment, they can effectively build the unbreakable bonds of trust that are so critical to patient-centered care.”
The survey was conducted over a six-week period concluding at the end of April and includes more than 30,000 responses. During that time respondents reported nearly 70% of their encounters involved a full or mixed virtual medicine component. Mixed visits could have included a combination of video and in-person visits, telephone, email, or text.
“Based on the data, patients are overwhelmingly positive about their virtual interactions with their care providers, even when technical issues posed challenges,” according to The Rapid Transition to Telemedicine: Insights and Early Trends, issued by Press Ganey. A chart in the report demonstrates tight alignment between patient’s satisfaction scores for virtual or in-person visits when asked about their likelihood of recommending care provider, the provider’s concerns for their questions or worries, efforts to include them in decisions, explanations of problems and conditions, treatment discussions, and “whether the staff worked together to care for you.”
The survey also indicates, however, opportunities to improve processes related to telemedicine. For example, ease of scheduling appointments and ease of contacting the provider scored much lower for virtual care versus in-office visits. As a result, patients are less likely to recommend virtual visits to others compared to office encounters.
“This is not unexpected given the quick, large-scale transition to telemedicine and the learning curve for the provider and the patient,” the report states. “These data highlight opportunities for enhancing the physician–patient connection by addressing technical barriers that impede consistent and reliable communication.”
The report suggests several recommendations to help providers enhance the patient experience when conducting virtual visits:
- Be genuine and conscious of the warmth conveyed during the opening and closing of each session. Confirm that the patient can hear and see you clearly and avoid interruptions.
- Set an agenda at the outset. Identify and confirm the patient’s priorities and communicate how they will be addressed.
- Consistently convey empathy through language. Deliberately check in about patients’ worries or concerns throughout the visit and especially at the end of the session.
- Bring structure to officially closing out the session. Summarize the post-visit plan, reinforcing patient and provider actions. Review questions and answers. Offer instructions for follow-up concerns.
Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.