Small clinics and medical offices often lack the IT resources and staffing found at giant hospital systems, but that doesn’t mean smaller practices should eschew new technology (or technology altogether, for that matter).
Thankfully, many health technologies are much more accessible for small offices than you might assume. Like video remote interpreting (VRI). Yes, VRI sounds complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.
Some VRI solutions allow you to use existing equipment, so you don’t have to take on the expense or space of single-use devices. All you need is a device with a microphone and camera — like the laptop, tablet, or smartphone that you already use. This can be extremely cost-effective for smaller practices, while also driving stronger patient-provider relationships and more efficient processes.
Care about customer service? Try VRI
Great customer service is not something we associate with healthcare, but medicine is a service-based industry. Small practices especially need to keep this in mind if they want to attract patients by offering an alternative to large, impersonal healthcare networks. And in a time where clinics are being swallowed by mergers and consolidation, differentiating yourself through service quality can help keep your doors open.
“[Healthcare is] truly a unique service business,” states James Merlino, MD, president and chief medical officer for strategic consulting at Press Ganey Associates. “Even though the ‘customer’ comes first, it’s a business where the customer is not always right. In many cases, they don’t want to be a customer at all.”
While not the same, Dr. Merlino does note that there are principles that healthcare systems can borrow from other industries to build stronger patient-provider relationships.
“What we can learn from hospitality are ways in which we can better interact with our patients. High-performing hospitality organizations understand how to motivate their people and keep them focused on the big picture of personal-relationship-oriented interactions through the use of good processes and cultural alignment.”
A great way to provide the “personal-relationship-oriented interactions” described by Dr. Merlino is through the use of VRI. While over-the-phone interpreting is fantastic for more transactional situations, VRI can help boost the interpersonal relationship between a non-English-speaking patient and a provider, aid in the exchange of more accurate information between the two parties (when an educational component that requires the use of hand gestures is at play, for example), and act as a cultural broker when appropriate.
As a result, VRI can help build trust and rapport between the provider and patient, and add that personal touch to the encounter often missing for non-English-speaking patients.
Telemedicine/VRI hybrid for rural clinics
Small rural clinics face a laundry list of care barriers: a high rate of uninsured, language discordance, financial constraints, reimbursement challenges, more complex disease presentations, shortage of qualified staff, and so on.
According to Gary Hart, PhD, director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, accessibility to healthcare in rural regions remains a struggle. “Access to providers, even family physicians, is a problem,” states Hart. “If you want to go to an OB/GYN, depending on where you live in the country, you may have to go 200 miles.”
Telemedicine is a promising solution to begin narrowing health inequities in rural areas, helping to solve some of the major causes of disparity. With telemedicine, patients have access to a wider variety of specialties, can often skip costly and unnecessary ER visits, can be treated in their own area, and can, in some cases, be seen from their home.
In addition, some language service providers are building their solutions on telemedicine platforms. This allows healthcare providers to use the same platform to access a specialist and/or a video-enabled interpreter without switching platforms or investing in separate technology. And since VRI provides the visual component that is necessary in certain medical scenarios, it can be more effective than hunting down an on-site interpreter that happens to be in the area.
When the name of the game for rural providers is doing more with less, the dual role of a telemedicine/VRI hybrid solution can really make a difference in the delivery of care.
By being smart about what health IT solutions you adopt, small operations can realize many benefits for their patients and practice. The right technology, like VRI, should empower your small practice to deliver quality care while also improving patient-provider relationships and increasing efficiencies.
With CLI’s web-based VRI platform, there is no complicated installation or fussy equipment, and you only pay for the minutes you use. Feel free to contact us for more information. We’d love to hear from you!