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Inclusive telemedicine: making healthcare accessible for all

medical healthcare doctor
(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve witnessed a surge in online tools that have allowed us to conduct a whole range of activities virtually, particularly for healthcare-related tasks. However, while it is easy to think that everyone is digitally savvy, there is a significant proportion of the UK population who are most certainly not digital by default: older adults.

This is not to say that this age group isn’t embracing the online world though. According to the Office of National Statistics, recent internet use by retired adults increased from 40 percent in 2011 to 67 percent in 2019. As more older Britons gain access to the internet, telemedicine has the potential to reach an even broader audience, with this age group arguably being most in need of more regular medical advice and less likely to be able to visit physical locations due to the heightened need to self-isolate.

Opening access for all

Covid-19 has greatly changed the outlook for telemedicine. The previously untapped possibilities for telemedicine are broad: it can bring added value such as increased patient engagement, lower costs and better patient care. With wider acceptance, we can benefit from these advantages like never before. While its use was on the rise, the pandemic has set efforts to digitize health into overdrive. Take, for example, GP appointments: prior to the coronavirus outbreak, more than 70 percent of GP consultations in England were carried out face-to-face, but within weeks that figure dropped to just 23 percent, RCGP figures show. Telemedicine has now become an increasingly important tool for keeping people healthy and safe during the pandemic, and it's vital to ensure that older generations can benefit from this technology now and in the future.

While telehealth providers cannot directly impact how many people have access to the internet, they can ensure their processes and usability are as simple as possible for those who do. Here are a few tips to help with this:

·        Provide education and support: When it comes to making health decisions, patients need to have 100 percent confidence in the system and how it works, particularly when a fifth of people over 65 describe themselves as “not confident” online, much higher than the average (7 percent). To keep people at ease, providers must equip patients with all the tools they need to schedule an online appointment, download an app and access the platform. An easy way to do this is by creating FAQs, video tutorials and other educational materials to make it easy for new users to learn about the process and troubleshoot. Once people are onboarded, support can’t stop. You must offer technical help within the platform by providing a phone number and/or a button that patients can use to connect directly with someone who can help.

·        Allow for flexibility in channels: Omnichannel support is the best solution for making telehealth accessible to the broadest user base. Even though older generations may be newer to the internet, they are accessing it via different ways — there has been a sharp rise in over-75s using tablets, from 15 percent to 27 percent, and the use of smartphones among this age group has nearly doubled, from 8 percent to 15 percent. To ensure usability across all devices, platforms should let patients take their appointments however they like, whether that is smartphones, apps, laptops or fully wired with a computer.

·        Give clear instructions: Don’t get bogged down in jargon. Medical information can be confusing for those not in the health space, a problem which can be exacerbated when appointments move online. Provide patients with clear instructions in plain English. Make sure patients understand why you need particular information and detail all the steps required to schedule and attend a virtual appointment.

·        Make it accessible: Accessibility features are key to making sure the telehealth process is easy to navigate and not intimidating to those who are not tech confident. After all, older people are more likely to be newer internet users, most likely going online for the first time in the last five years. Ensure that the platform provides a large, clear view of the doctor and give users the ability to control font size and adjust contrast. It is also important to enable voice control for those who prefer to speak instead of type, along with text-to-speech for those who might struggle to read a screen.

·        Invest in translation resources: For non-English speakers, a visit to the hospital would often involve an interpreter to make sure they receive the care that they need. With appointments moving online, it is the responsibility of healthcare providers to ensure that patients, no matter their native language can receive the right care from the safety of their homes. This means making investments into appropriate language tools, whether that is making sure an interpreter can also join a virtual appointment or a built-in translation tool.

·        Say no to the password: Digital users have too many passwords to keep track of so don’t add to this burden by adding one to access their healthcare, which is arguably the most important resource to keep safe. Digital identity verification makes it easier for providers and patients, both for onboarding and for authenticating identities before future virtual visits. Patients take a photo of their government-issued ID using their smartphone or webcam followed by capturing a selfie (where a 3D face map is created). This makes sure that the person creating an account is the person that they say they are (and physically present). For future access, they only need to take a fresh selfie, creating a new 3D face map that can be immediately compared to the original. This process can be completed in seconds.

The telehealth industry has the potential to revolutionize healthcare. The pandemic has normalized the use of telemedicine, but to make sure this is a lasting change, the online experience must be reviewed and reconfigured to make it easy for anyone to access, regardless of age, tech ability or even language. By putting these actions into place, healthcare providers can allow even more members of the public to benefit from telehealth.

Philipp Pointner, Chief Product Officer, Jumio