Why smartphones help close the telehealth digital divide

Jun 08, 2022 | Dialer Enterprise

No computer? No broadband? No problem. Telehealth is in the palm of their hand.

More than two-thirds (68%) of Americans say smartphones are their preferred device for virtual visits. That’s good news for patients who own a smartphone. The not-so-good news? Not all care providers offer a smartphone option. Much attention is (rightly) paid to the digital divide that makes telehealth access difficult for historically marginalized and vulnerable patient populations. However, there is also a divide between those who want telehealth via their smartphone and care providers who don’t provide this option. Bridging this divide is a necessary step in telehealth maturation that will enable health systems to expand access to care in a meaningful way and bring society one step closer to equity-centered care.


Why smartphones make so much sense

While a multichannel platform (incorporating patient portals, video conferencing software, audio-only options, computers, etc.) is the virtual care ideal, one of the best opportunities to expand telehealth convenience is to give patients the option of using their smartphones for virtual appointments. Consider these numbers

  • 81% of Americans own smartphones
  • 41% of Americans ages 65 and older do not use home broadband; 53% have smartphones
  • 39% of Hispanics and 34% of Blacks do not use home broadband

And consider research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, which shows that “a readily available smartphone application can be a useful adjunct to directly engage in video visits in a safety-net hospital.” (Safety-net hospitals serve, by legal obligation or mission, patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.)   


Smartphones: the key to unlocking access to telehealth

Meeting patients “where they are” (that is, on their smartphones) provides an opportunity to reduce inequity in access to care while also meeting the expectations of patients who appreciate a familiar consumer-oriented smartphone experience. Ease of use is a given for patients. However, many telehealth platforms do not natively support secure smartphone consultations. It behooves healthcare systems to strongly consider adoption of multichannel telehealth platforms that integrate a smartphone option for their patients who want virtual care but must jump through hoops to do so — while their smartphone sits in the palm of their hand.


A multichannel telehealth platform checks so many boxes

The advantages of a multichannel approach go far beyond access to a broader patient population. They include:

  • Improving provider productivity by reducing no-show visits
  • Gaining the flexibility to take best-of-breed approaches targeted to different patient
    populations and practice areas
  • Providing redundancy in case of a system failure
  • Integrating telehealth visits with electronic health records (EHR)
  • Aligning healthcare systems with the powerful consumerism trend where patients want
    control over where and how telehealth visits are conducted.

Bottom line: By offering virtual visits via smartphones, health systems can close some important gaps in access to care while also connecting with patients in the way they want to be served.


Read more about multichannel solutions here.