Using Telehealth Data to Improve Patient Care

By David Thompson, MD

Understanding what drives patients to seek treatment can help you educate and prepare staff, which improves the patient experience. While you may have a gut instinct as to your patient’s chief complaints, have you ever crunched the numbers? Health Navigator has. We’ve explored approximately 20,000 medical call center patient interactions to identify the top reasons patients called, how urgent their symptoms were, and peak call times.

The analysis included information for patients from all age groups and found the top complaints included: fever, vomiting, stomach pain, cough, and head pain. Patients with the most urgent needs were babies or infants three to twenty-four months old (nearly 35 percent of calls), while the least urgent calls involved children (two to twelve years).

Understanding why and when people contact nurse advice centers allows telemedicine providers to manage staff expectations and prepare for common interactions. This can be accomplished by using a diagnostic telehealth platform that codes the chief complaints. This serves as a starting point to analyze the most common interactions at a hospital or health system.

If healthcare professionals and call center staff know what to expect in the average telehealth experience, they can:

  • Prepare a standardized call flow format and follow-up questions for their system’s top complaints.
  • Calmly and consistently handle patient calls and manage expectations.
  • Plan workflow and staffing needs, based on patient prioritization and time of day.

Diagnostic platforms can also provide data healthcare professionals can use to determine the suggested treatment protocol for common complaints and to enhance staff training, such as to:

  • Teach incoming staff the most common chief complaints.
  • Document follow-up protocol and questions to ask.
  • Prepare educational information about recommended treatments.

Consider the patient who contacts a medical call center about a persistent cough. The responding staff member recognizes this as a common chief complaint and asks follow-up questions suggested by the telehealth platform. This allows staff to consistently communicate the most common treatments for a cough and to provide care instructions for the patient. The telehealth platform can also provide easy access to printable aftercare instructions to share with patients.

This more efficient workflow can ultimately create a more effective environment for staff and contribute to patient satisfaction and retention efforts. The needs of a patient population may change over time, but data about common chief complaints can help understand these cycles and market services accordingly throughout the year.

David Thompson, MD, FACEP is CEO and chief medical officer at Health Navigator. A part-time faculty attending in the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, Dr. Thompson also works as an author and partner with Self Care Decisions, LLC and Schmitt-Thompson Clinical Content, LLC. In a collaboration with well-known pediatrician Dr. Barton Schmitt, Dr. Thompson has developed a comprehensive set of telephone triage protocols that are used in medical call centers and doctors’ offices in the United States and internationally. He can be reached at david.thompson@healthnavigator.com.