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Telehealth for rural areas

Preparing rural patients for telehealth

Preparation is critical for patients who are new to receiving care through telehealth.

Rural patients often have high levels of healthcare needs, but see healthcare providers less than their urban counterparts. In short, the people who need healthcare the most aren’t always getting it.

Telehealth can be that bridge for rural patients to get the care they need. But the very idea of virtual healthcare may seem daunting, confusing, or expensive to people not familiar with telehealth.

And since patients tend to be older in rural and frontier areas, lack of digital literacy is also a hurdle for providers to overcome.

Educate patients about the basics of rural telehealth

You will want to first make sure they understand how you will be providing telehealth care to them. That could be a combination of video chats, phone calls, and secure messaging. Or it may just be phone calls and secure messaging if your coverage area doesn’t yet support broadband internet.

By talking to your patients, or through written and digital materials or video, you will want to communicate the following:

The technology and equipment they will need to receive telehealth care. This could include everything from internet and video capabilities for video chat, to a hotspot or cell signal for messaging.

How you will bill them or their insurance for the visit. Many patients worry telehealth care is expensive when it often costs no more than their typical co-pay.

How to prepare for a virtual visit. Patients who have not used telehealth before, especially older patients, will likely need a step-by-step guide for signing up and logging on for their appointment.

What types of conditions or treatments can be managed with telehealth. Providers that are launching or expanding a telehealth practice for rural patients will need to ensure they know how they will get care. Let them know their options, from cold or virus symptoms to migraines to mental health concerns.

Help with technology troubleshooting

You want your patients’ first few telehealth appointments to be a success so they keep using the services. Consider having a staff member be on hand to answer questions or help patients troubleshoot their technology for the first few appointments. You can also put out a tip sheet with common tech troubleshooting, including:

  • Downloading and launching your app or software they will need to connect with you
  • How to create an account
  • How to use their video and mic functions during the appointment
  • How to make sure their computer, tablet, or smartphone is connected to the internet
  • What to do if their connection is spotty

What your patients can expect from a telehealth appointment

The best way to ensure a successful and productive telehealth appointment is to make sure your patients are prepared and know what to expect. This is especially important for rural patients who may be unfamiliar with telehealth or who may not frequently see a medical provider.

Before the appointment

  • Ask your patient if they have any special needs that require accommodations, such as assistive technology or translation services. Also ask if a family member or caregiver will be present.
  • Let your patient know if they should wear loose fitting clothing. This is helpful if you will need to see a certain part of their body during the appointment.
  • Make sure your patient receives and understands instructions on how to sign on for the appointment.
  • Let your patient know ahead of time how you will have the appointment if one or both of you has connectivity issues.
  • Answer any questions about payment or insurance.

During the appointment

  • Start by introducing yourself. Then ask the patient their preferred name and pronouns.
  • Ask your patient if they are in an area they consider safe and private.
  • Talk to your patient the same way you would as if they were sitting in front of you.
  • Talk to your patient about preventative care as well as the main purpose of the appointment.
  • Ask your patients about alcohol use, substance abuse, and smoking. Offer to help them find local resources if needed.
  • Make sure your patients understand next steps and if you will be following up in any way.

After the appointment

  • Make sure your patient knows how to get in touch with you by phone, secure messaging, or even text message if they forgot anything or have questions about follow up care.
  • Follow through on prescription orders or referrals to other providers.
  • Ask for feedback on the telehealth appointment and ask what they liked or would change.
  • Provide your patient with local resources for wellness, exercise, nutrition, parenting, and state and federal assistance.