CAPE TOWN- The Covid-19 pandemic could potentially change the way health care delivery functions, placing telemedicine and digital strategies at center stage to flatten the curve.
According to an academic article found on JAMA Network, experts say that many health care systems and physician offices have already begun to implement these telemedicine strategies.
In dealing with the digital shift, experts say that there will be a digital divide in societies of low-income, low health literacy, disability, geographic isolation, limited English proficiency, and limited access to the internet.
Furthermore, health care providers utilising telehealth will not be able to conduct physical examinations. This absence may affect patient communication, treatment adherence, and the cultivation of a patient-provider relationship.
In order to navigate the digital revolution in health care, experts recommend the adoption of 5 important strategies.
1. Expand internet access
Limited internet access exists mainly among racial and ethnic minorities, residents of rural areas or tribal lands, and those with low socioeconomic status. If patients do not have access to the internet, they will not be able to access a health care professional or utilize telemedicine digital services. While many countries are integrating broadband expansion into legislative priorities, these processes do take time. States are required to take action and incentivise internet service providers to extend services in areas of need where the cost of doing so may be otherwise prohibitive.
2. Accommodate systems for language, literacy, and disability
Many telehealth tools and platforms run the risk of insufficient consideration of the need to accommodate patient language, literacy, and disability needs. This will cause a digital divide and it is imperative that developers and software engineers for the telehealth systems address these concerns.
3. Implement telehealth literacy training
Telehealth literacy is defined as the capacity to understand and have personal and technical comfort with the receipt of health care through technology. Patients need to be able to have the capacity to process and understand basic health information, as well as understand how to utilise technology and systems and then make the appropriate decisions. This form of literacy may pose an additional challenge for many patients. Leveraging partnerships with public serving entities, such as local libraries, should be a central part of state strategy in telehealth.
4. Community health worker engagement
In order for telehealth to operate efficiently, community health workers should assist as they are an asset to health systems because of their community-rooted credibility and understanding. They can help patients with limited telehealth literacy while they conduct their clinical visits, provide culturally and linguistically appropriate information to patients and communities, and coordinate the provision of essential items, such as food, water, cleaning supplies, and masks.
5. Digital empathy and webside manner
In a digitally connected world, it may be difficult to emulate compassion for those who do not yet understand how to navigate it. Similar to the “bedside manner” that has been central to medical education, “webside manner” must also be learned and embedded into the fabric of training and practice. As health care professional education programs are being reconstructed, traditional medical education must change and needs to be inclusive of conveying empathy to patients during telehealth care.
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