Telehealth's awkward waiting room problem, and how one company aims to solve it

Even as telehealth has made many aspects of care more seamless, a few elements have routinely emerged as points of difficulty.   

Among them is the waiting room. A new survey from LifeLink Systems out this week found that the vast majority of patients said they'd prefer a virtual waiting room that allowed them to complete paperwork on their phones before they got to a doctors' office.   

But as with in-person services, providers are sometimes running behind, regardless of how much preparation the patient has undertaken.  

And unlike in a brick-and-mortar facility, patients waiting at a computer in front of an open window screen can wonder if they've correctly followed instructions. They may be tempted to click away – or get up and leave altogether.  

"We had a couple customers come to us and say, 'Our patients are navigating outside of the visit because when they get to us they're staring at a blank screen,'" said Jessica Neyer, vice president of strategy at Mend.  

Mend's enhanced virtual waiting room attempts to give patients a reason to stay on the right page – while aiming to help subsidize the cost of telehealth for providers.  

The concept, said Neyer, sprung from the issue of ensuring patients know they're in the right virtual place.  

"A lightbulb went off," she said: the virtual waiting room as "an opportunity to engage the patients and make it like the other solutions they're using."  

Mend, said Neyer, has created a "Netflix-like" library of specialty-specific content for patients. The selection stems from publicly available information: the doctor's national provider identification, their specialty and their location.  

Both providers and patients "are hungry for some kind of engaging content," she said. Providers can use their own video content, including information that they feel may be relevant to their patients.   

Mend also runs ads on the free version of its platform, which can be targeted based on specialty. Recently, said Neyer, the state of Florida targeted behavioral health patients with an anti-tobacco public service announcement.  

"We do no PHI targeting at all," said Neyer. In terms of accessibility, although the pre-telehealth videos can be captioned in English or Spanish, there is no automated Mend-enabled captioning for the video visit itself. Providers can call patients directly if the patient doesn't join on a computer, and Meyer says Mend has back-end interpreters for multiple languages.   

The platform works across Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari.   

"We don't work on Internet Explorer and actually recommend that patients not use it," said Neyer.  

Patients also cannot opt to turn off the videos in the virtual waiting room, "but it's kind of a choose-your-own-destiny situation," she said.  

"It's up to them to toggle to any video they want to see," she said. "But most patients are engaged; they're interested."  

"As you know, telehealth is slowly evolving," added Neyer. "We've had all that time to know what actually works for a provider."

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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