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Increasing Patient Engagement within the Single Parent Community

Telehealth is quickly becoming the new norm as a way in which patients can gain quicker access to their healthcare providers, get certain treatments that can be done through video visits, and for a way to self-manage health and wellness overall. With Telemedicine as a solution, more and more parents are inquiring about the ability to proxy for their children’s health under such platforms, but what happens with their engagement after one or two visits with their provider through Telemedicine? Covid-19 has highlighted the need for equal access to healthcare, but once Telehealth is offered as a solution for a parent and his or her child to engage during this crisis, will the visits continue through this platform over time? Are we encouraging patient engagement by way of Telemedicine as an ongoing solution to access care or are we encouraging this as quick resolution for the current health crisis? I personally think it is both, depending on many different factors.

Healthcare institutions around the nation hire health IT, health informatics, and innovation experts to assist in developing plans and infrastructure to improve digital health and create a patient centered/user-friendly environment for providing quality care. One of the ways this is being addressed is with the implementation and optimization of digital health platforms and the leveraging of video visits. With the pandemic, came the urgency to increase transformation from 100% face to face and telephone visits to some of the appointments being scheduled or converted to Televisits. The word is out. Especially in 2020, many adults have been able to take advantage of the quick patient-provider access Telemedicine provides, but for single parents who raise their children alone, managing household tasks with their child’s learning needs, on top of managing their health, can be overwhelming.

Between balancing their own lifestyle and raising a child, adding a way to protect themselves and the children from getting a virus with no vaccine yet available to be distributed takes a strategy that requires full time attention and ongoing adjustments. Telehealth can help parents balance meeting other life’s necessities with meeting certain health needs, but not only to treat specific ailments. Parents can still leverage Telehealth to improve health for them and their kids in a preventative and meaningful way, receiving similar, if not the same quality care, from the comfort of their own home.

More and more parents are opting for e-visits and video visits for themselves and their children. However, single parents would benefit from adopting Telehealth as a long-term solution or they may not be as prepared as they would like for the next potential health emergency that may require social distancing or even quarantine. We all hope it would never come to that, but also consider that Telehealth can also be a good way to ensure we, as parents, do not let our children’s required health checkups fall by the wayside.

Depending on the platform, Telemedicine appointment reminders and video launching instructions can be sent to patients via text or email notification prior to each visit. With this enabled, parents will not have to rely on manually added appointment reminders on their smart phone or calendars or even worry that notifications will be marked as spam. Some patients may not opt for receiving text messages or set up multiple ways to receive reminders, but the opportunity to prepare prior to an incoming appointment is enhanced if the patient uses their portal as a way to communicate or receive communication from their provider. For most, nothing beats seeing their provider in person, but hearing a voice and seeing them through video is way better than only having a phone call as their only secondary option. It may even significantly increase engagement, since Telehealth generally doesn’t require traveling to the doctor’s office.

For those who see having more appointments as cumbersome, increased engagement is a good thing. Preventive care is not meant to instill fear of a pending illness, but to promote a proactive approach to overall health and wellness. We are telling our own body how much we appreciate it and the more you appreciate, the better it responds.

Prior to Covid-19, many patients would use portals to access test results and send messages to their providers, but the opportunity to use or even be aware of the option to use Telemedicine was highly dependent on the healthcare intuition’s ability to engage and educate patients about it. If not, utilization and awareness can start to decrease overtime. However, with more healthcare institutions implementing Telemedicine, due to Covid-19, the demand is increasing to implement and optimize reliable platforms and access to devices to stay competitive and innovative. The true goal, however, is to invite patients to engage in their own health.

I recently stumbled on an interesting video discussion between the Epic Founder, Judy Faulkner and the Cleveland Clinic. Epic has been impressive in making a lot of new software available to healthcare customers fast and meeting many of the urgent needs demanded with Covid-19. It was mentioned that Telehealth was installed in two hundred systems so far and additional money wasn't made off of Covid-19. This interview was also noted in an article in Healthcare IT Today for its mention of the successful enrollment of 165 million people in MyChart, which is a patient portal that gives patients online access to medical records, but Judy Faulker did raise an important fact,

“How do you get patients involved in managing their own...first of all, the knowledgeable Patient is a healthier patient. So that's a good thing. Secondly, we have found that Patients don't even want to manage their own information. They want you folks to manage it."

Judy Faulkner also added,

"Our experience has been that about 0.5% of the patients want to manage their own, have even been interested in managing their own record and then that falls off…So, 99.5% haven't even taken that step to be interested in managing it. They want the health systems to manage it.”

Institutions using a Telemedicine solution integrated within Epic MyChart will need to consider ways to increase engagement amongst patients. I believe engagement will increase exponentially, but it would be interesting to see if the increase will be due to anything outside of the fact that we are in a pandemic. Additionally, we need to see what will make the long-term difference amongst the single parent community? Can we highlight the benefits of Telemedicine enough to make a lasting impact among single parents? We all know technology keeps changing. Feature parity and incompatibility issues between platforms will always need to be considered and the public will need to ensure that ongoing upgrades and enhancements are installed so nothing interferes with their Telehealth experience with their provider. The good news is that healthcare institutions are doing their best to find solutions for patients to leverage Telehealth to engage in their own health. We would just need to ensure that this opportunity exists equally across the board.

While Telemedicine is gaining traction, we must ensure that we are providing opportunities for all communities to have this same access to care and engage in their own health. What is known as the “digital divide” may limit access to certain communities that are limited in high speed internet, functional laptops, smart phones, or iPads. Certain homes will have no problem accessing their provider quickly if they own the modern devices and have good WiFi.

There are single parents in some low income communities who will not be able to take the best advantage of Telemedicine or even be educated equally on their individual and child’s health as seamlessly as those who are afforded opportunities and resources to access information quickly. It really makes me smile to learn that healthcare institutions are consider this more.

The blessing in disguise is that the impact of Covid-19 has shed a light on the need to help the more vulnerable population such as the elderly, by offering ways to obtain devices quickly. Many of these devices will have apps preinstalled to make using Telemedicine easier. This is not only beneficial for the elderly, but single parents with less time may find this useful when trying to balance their child’s health needs with, well, life!

I imagine this has led healthcare institutions to up their game on quick solutions for all vulnerable groups; not only those who are more at risk because of age, but those with demographic, geographical, or other socioeconomic challenges. Within various communities, there will be those who are less tech savvy, whether it’s because of the age or lack of exposure to the most up-to-date technology.

If these healthcare institutions are doing their part, patients should know that it would be to their advantage to take every opportunity to use this to engage more in their own health if they can. This especially applies to single parents looking for better ways to manage their children’s health and their family’s overall wellness.

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