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Ensuring equal access to telehealth

Unequal access to health care is a societal issue that exists beyond telehealth.

Improving access to telehealth means finding ways to decrease challenges that can prevent people with disabilities, older individuals, the uninsured and underinsured, those with limited English proficiency or limited digital literacy, and others from getting care virtually. It ensures that all populations have equal access to telehealth.

Staff and provider training

Providers and staff who have the knowledge they need to support their patients’ needs will have a successful telehealth practice. Make sure staff understand how to make telehealth accessible and available to all patients, regardless of potential challenges. So how can staff promote access to telehealth?

  • A flexible telehealth workflow that makes it easy to roll out quick changes and improvements to address the needs of local patient communities.
  • Planning additional time for staff and health care provider training and ramp up, including information on cultural sensitivity and accessibility requirements.
  • An inclusive patient intake process that screens for technology skills and communication preferences ahead of time. A review and intake plan is equally important to provide solutions or alternatives to address telehealth challenges identified during patient intake.
  • Dedicated telehealth support. Be willing to shift staff roles and responsibilities or provide dedicated staff in charge of telehealth coordination. In addition to basic preparation for a telehealth appointment, schedule extra time before the appointment to address questions from patients and their family members in their preferred language or method of communication. Have someone available for additional support during the time of the actual appointment, if needed.

Telehealth communications

Consider how you can improve your communications strategy to engage staff and welcome new patients interested in telehealth. For example:

  • Offer materials accessible in different formats and multiple languages. Use both images and words in your communications for those with low literacy.
  • Measure patient satisfaction with post-visit surveys to improve service, reduce barriers to care, and make patients more comfortable before, during, and after a virtual visit.
  • Encourage staff to help broaden telehealth access through working groups on this topic. Send news about related projects and report progress at meetings and via staff newsletters or other internal communications.
  • Promote the development of additional skills and experiences within your team, including:
    • Cultural competency
    • Connections to the local community
    • Experience working with underserved patient groups
    • Knowledge of other languages besides English

Tip: Watch this webinar to learn more about the impact of telehealth on health equity from the perspective of large healthcare systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last updated: May 19, 2021

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