Telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) technologies can be powerful tools in a well-rounded patient care plan and help drive overarching program objectives. These objectives often include improving patient experience, streamlining patient-physician communication, enhancing patient health literacy and confidence, and reducing hospital readmissions and ED visits.
While telehealth and RPM are the vehicles by which these destinations can be reached, the way that patients perceive being ‘handed the keys’ can significantly impact the patient’s success and the long-term success of the telehealth program. With each patient’s unique background and life experiences, their comfort level and confidence in utilizing technology can differ significantly. There are several practical steps that you can take as a healthcare provider to ensure patients feel comfortable and more willing to embrace telehealth and RPM technology as tools to help improve their health and well-being.
Build Patient Comfort & Set Expectations
The first step in successfully preparing a patient for telehealth enrollment takes place before the system is even introduced. A critical element of delivering effective outpatient care is to determine the patient’s current outlook regarding their habits and understanding of their condition(s), recognizing the impact that behavior has on the condition(s) and his or her ability to improve them with the right guidance.
Once you’ve established the patient’s outlook, there are steps you can take to build their comfort from the initial installation visit onward. The first is to frame telehealth and RPM not as a choice but as a standard of care. This will include outlining the benefits to the patient and their families, setting expectations and offering reassurance. Inform patients of what features they’ll have access to and be expected to use: Bluetooth monitoring devices, daily surveys, medication reminders, educational videos. Explain how they’ll use the platform to access these tools and how their nursing team will be able to better support them when they use the tools. Here, you can learn more about how the telehealth team at Emerson Hospital Home Care acclimates patients to the telehealth platform to improve their engagement.
Encouraging patients to ask questions is essential in building their confidence. A patient’s willingness to ask questions not only points to their level of engagement but also their understanding and comfort. Any patients who are uncomfortable with the platform will typically shy away from asking questions. Throughout a patient’s enrollment, it’s important to ask ‘teach back’ or open-ended questions to solidify their understanding. During installation for example, to ensure understanding, instead of asking, ‘Do you understand how to watch the educational videos?’ you can instead ask ‘How do the educational videos help improve your care?’ which would elicit an explanation instead of a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.
Involve the Caregiver
Caregivers provide essential support to patients during their telehealth enrollment and post-discharge. If possible, the caregiver should be incorporated into the installation visit so as to build their knowledge of the program, outline expectations for the patient and understand how best to support the patient. In addition, having a member of their support team present, such as a friend or family member, can help reduce the patient’s anxiety and offer an additional layer of comfort.
Moving beyond the installation visit, having a well-informed and involved caregiver can help ensure the patient’s adherence and impact the patient’s success. The ability to monitor the patient’s health status remotely can also provide comfort to the caregiver. At HRS, we offer a caregiver option to assist with patient and clinician communication.
Provide Educational Materials
Educational materials are by no means a one-size fits all solution. Just as with life experiences and health confidence, patients’ general literacy and health literacy will vary and will impact the ways in which they learn best. For some patients, a brief guide or ‘cheat sheet’ can be helpful to remind them of 1) each feature included in the platform which they will be expected to use, 2) how to communicate with their nurses and 3) an outline for their daily routine. At HRS, we recommend including a “Welcome Letter” including all the above materials. When creating your educational materials, remember to avoid medical jargon and to write at or below a fifth grade reading level.
The day after installation, calling each new patient to answer questions and provide reassurance can go a long way in securing their engagement on the program. Regardless of a patient’s initial readings and survey responses, that first call assures them that the nursing team is there to support them and accessible if and when they need assistance.
Continued follow-up throughout the program helps to push them in building independence. For example, at ProMedica Home Care, the telehealth team reaches out to patients after installation and again ten days into enrollment to remind them to watch the educational videos and how the videos can impact their care. You can read more installation best practices from the ProMedica Team here.