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Telemedicine Improves Access to Prenatal Care, But Can We Improve Access to Telemedicine?

April 5, 2022
Virtual Gynecology

The pandemic opened the door to broader use of virtual healthcare. Whether it was fear or a deliberate attempt to reduce the risk of a Covid-19 infection, the shift to telemedicine in the healthcare sector was welcomed by healthcare professionals, patients, and stakeholders. As the search to access and deliver health care became frantic, several measures were put in place by both health care providers and beneficiaries with statistics showing a 38 times increase in telehealth use from the pre-COVID-19 baseline. By April 2020, telemedicine visits were 78 higher than the visits in February 2020.

The pandemic is slowly becoming a part of us and the healthcare system with many operations going back to normal, or rather, their pre-pandemic state. There seems to be a relaxation in the provision and use of telehealth platforms. In some cases, the measures put in place to improve access to telemedicine seem to be nowhere in sight. Hence, the question is, how can we improve access to telemedicine?

Improving access to telemedicine

Telemedicine has increased access and delivery of several health services over the past 1 to 2 years, including prenatal care. Virtual prenatal care has not only reduced the risk for Covid-19 infection but has increased consumer satisfaction and self-efficiency in patients. It has proven beneficial to the health, growth, and development of both mother and child during pregnancy.

Women are able to book appointments with their local doctors, nurses and midwives, as well as specialists depending on their needs. They have also been able to enjoy care at their convenience and at lower costs. However, not all women enjoy access to telemedicine. Certain provisions that were made during the pandemic have been unavailable since things started returning to normal. While there is still an optimal use of telemedicine, several populations may not enjoy access to it. For example, pregnant women living with disabilities, those in areas with limited access to internet and devices, women with low digital literacy, and patients with limited English proficiency.

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Pregnant women with disabilities

There should be no discrimination against people living with disabilities. Hence, there is a call for equal access to healthcare services, including telemedicine services. 

There are several ways to achieve equal access to telehealth services, including:

  1. Include ways to assess patient accessibility and technology needs when booking a new or follow-up appointment times.
  2. Make resources available to meet the special needs of these patients. These may include Braille, audio recording, and printed information, among others.
  3. Ensure and increase the accessibility of your website and digital tools. These include large font size, interpreter services, live captions, high-contrast display, etc.
  4. Let your platform provide alternatives such as telecommunication relay services and interpreter virtual appointments.
  5. Have trained staff attend to patients with disabilities.

Pregnant women with limited access to internet and smart devices

There are women, especially those in rural areas who lack access to adequate broadband internet and digital devices. This makes telemedicine almost impossible. To improve access:

  1. Call ahead. Call patients before their appointments to confirm if they have the necessary technology to attend.
  2. Use an alternative, when possible. This may mean using a landline or free internet hotspots in parks, community centers, etc. Ensure to check billing policies for a phone call, follow HIPAA guidelines and carry out necessary actions to protect patients' information.

Pregnant women with low digital literacy

Poor digital literacy can affect your delivery and the quality of care your patients will receive. You could:

  1. Provide links where they could learn digital skills in using the platform.
  2. Provide information on how to start, join, or end video meetings, what to do when they face a technical issue, and how to access medical documents and information on the website.

Pregnant women with limited English proficiency 

Patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) may find it difficult to understand virtual visits conducted in English. Hence, telemedicine platforms should provide language services to aid access by LEP patients. These include oral interpretation and written translation.

Usually, there are major languages spoken by a group of people including English, Mandarin, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Hence;

  1. Make multilingual patient resources available, and find out a patient's preferred language before their virtual appointment. 
  2. Make plans for interpreter support, if necessary.
  3. Certain "vital" documents have to be translated, according to federal regulations. Hence, review documents that fall into the "vital" category and make sure they are available in other languages for LEP patients.
  4. When possible, match the patient with a provider that is proficient in their preferred language.
  5. You may otherwise have a language expert or interpreter at the end of each visit to help with patients' questions.

At My Virtual Physician

At My Virtual Physician, we provide a wholesome prenatal care service that involves the health of your baby as well. As a telehealth platform, a visit to us helps you get your prenatal care started while you await your appointment with your local OB doctor.

More so, we are available to help guide you through your pregnancy and answer any questions that may arise. We are in network with many insurance health plans including Medicaid, Medicare, United HealthCare, and Blue Cross. 

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