Telemedicine can lead to more profitable practices post-pandemic
When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, patient and provider needs shifted substantially – and consumer demand for telehealth options skyrocketed.
This year, providers want to get back to running a profitable practice, and implementing a full virtual care strategy may very well be critical to achieving this goal.
Mike Morgan is president of Updox, a vendor of a healthcare communication platform for in-person and virtual care. Healthcare IT News sat down with Morgan to glean his expertise on the subject of virtual care moving forward.
We discussed providers' biggest technology product implementation challenges this year, virtual care solutions lessons learned from the past 12 months and best practices for building seamless, long-term virtual care strategies going forward.
Q: What are a couple of the biggest technology product implementation challenges for healthcare CIOs in 2021, after a momentous 12 months?
A: While the pandemic caused incredible disruption in healthcare, it also spurred adoption of new technologies to provide safe, secure care. Those brought about numerous benefits, but also the headaches of managing integrations of multiple solutions and various platforms to navigate, time spent logging in and out of different systems, and the administrative hassles of learning new solutions.
Some healthcare technologies offer a curated platform with several virtual health solutions that launch from the same system. Users can easily navigate from one solution to another without logging out of one and into the next. That not only saves them administrative time, but also allows for more patient care interaction – even if that happens virtually.
The past 12 months have also amplified the healthcare consumerism movement. Patients have come to expect certain conveniences – telehealth, contactless check-in, SMS texting – and I believe patients will want those options going forward. Some of this creates a necessary overhaul of healthcare delivery in ways that were once thought to be short-term solutions, but now have become permanent to create an ideal patient experience.
Q: What are a couple of lessons learned with virtual care solutions in the past year?
A: Today's healthcare providers need modern, impactful ways to maximize patient engagement, improve outcomes and enable more timely, efficient connections between patients and physicians. Virtual care gives providers opportunities to deliver the right care, at the right time, in the right place, through the right channel, in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.
Prior to the pandemic, many healthcare organizations had not considered virtual care as part of how they interact with patients. Solutions like telehealth or two-way texting were available, but adoption was slower. Now, as virtual care came into play so much during the pandemic, we've learned that it is here to stay. Patients say they appreciate the convenience it offers and want that to continue.
The biggest lesson we've learned is that virtual care is more than telehealth. It involves all the ways you are taking care of patients outside the four walls of the practice. As we reexamine virtual care in a post-COVID world, it becomes more about just the functions that it offers. It's beyond an electronic form or an appointment reminder. What are other ways healthcare can use those solutions to improve health?
Providers can target condition-specific texts to certain populations, or easily and conveniently share information about healthcare education or resources. Practices can text pre-visit instructions to patients or send them follow-up information after their appointment.
As an industry, it becomes: How do we use virtual care to make healthcare more efficient and accessible, and drive better health status? Where can virtual care improve workflows? An example is a form. One way is to have a patient complete a paper form. That form then needs to be transcribed or scanned, filed to the patient chart and then shredded.
A more efficient process is to have the patient complete an electronic form from home or their smartphone. It can immediately be filed to their chart in seconds, with no paper to print, touch or destroy. That's a savings of both time and money. Now, repeat that for every form a practice goes through in a day. It's just a better way to do business.
Q: What are the best practices to building a seamless, long-term virtual care strategy?
A: When creating a long-term virtual care strategy, practices should consider the expense, in terms of time and money, that daily redundant tasks are costing the business.
How many voicemails are being left to request a call back so the patient can receive a test result? Would it be more convenient to send the patient a secure text message and get that result delivered in just a few minutes? How many no-show appointments does the practice have each day?
Could reminders be set to send via text or email? Would a telehealth option allow that patient to keep that appointment? How many forms are staff printing, transcribing, scanning and shredding?
Options for virtual care can help practices proactively engage patients in their care, get them to appointments, keep them informed and promote adherence for improved outcomes. Solutions like broadcast messaging, appointment reminders, video chat and text messaging allow providers to easily and more efficiently deliver communications to remind patients to get their necessary care. Keeping schedules full is essential to running a profitable business.
Virtual care isn't just about mimicking the in-office experience. It allows providers to optimize it with the right tools right at your fingertips. Used correctly, it creates an ideal patient experience – where patients are engaged, informed and able to get answers to questions.
It's also key to know you don't have to jump right into a full virtual-care strategy. It doesn't need to be overwhelming.
Start with one solution. Put a workflow in place. Measure it, and ensure it's successful. Then move on to the next. Doing so can result in significantly higher patient engagement and satisfaction, better patient response rates, a reduction in appointment no-shows, and ultimately greater long-term success of the practice, health system or pharmacy.
Q: How can telehealth technology further increase workflow efficiencies, which can ultimately lead to a more profitable healthcare organization?
A: For many healthcare providers, telehealth was their first step into virtual care. What we all learned was that it was fairly universally embraced by physicians and patients. A recent survey of our own healthcare provider customers shows that almost all of them plan to continue offering telehealth in a mix of both virtual and in-office appointments.
Patients also prefer telehealth and report telehealth visits are more convenient than in-office appointments. Telehealth lets practices offer patients more access to secure and quality healthcare from the comfort of their own homes, further improving health outcomes and lowering costs.
Because of the growing role that telehealth plays in healthcare delivery, new service enhancements expand the use of the solution. Options like virtual waiting rooms or group encounters make telehealth more efficient and extend its use for families, care team members and expediting patient flow.
Telehealth also is an option to grow practice revenue. Providers can offer their services from any location or maintain relationships with patients who are away at college, on vacation or temporarily residing out of state.
It's a great option to allow the relationship between patients and their trusted physicians to flourish.