By Michael Morgan, CEO, Updox.
Once COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic and states across the country began issuing shelter in place orders, one thing became very clear: there was a crucial need for healthcare providers to adopt innovative solutions to continue caring for patients.
Practices needed a way to see their patients outside the office — and they needed it fast. As a result, telehealth quickly changed from a ‘plus’ or ‘nice to have’ to a requirement to stay in business.
At a time when many patients were quarantined and canceling appointments, practices were losing a significant amount of revenue. Telehealth provided a way for physicians to continue seeing their patients and keep their offices running.
In fact, implementing telehealth can also save practices an average of $200 per patient by reducing costs associated with missed or canceled patient appointments. As a result, telehealth skyrocketed during COVID-19, with nearly half of Americans (42%) reporting having used telehealth services since the pandemic first began, according to a recent Harris Poll survey commissioned by Updox.
Now that patients have become accustomed to the telehealth experience with their trusted physician, which is being provided by independent practices and large health systems alike, virtual care is on track to becoming fully integrated into our healthcare system. As we look ahead, healthcare providers will need to start balancing virtual and in-office appointments – and as they do, they will continue to adopt innovative new virtual care solutions that meet changing consumer expectations. Here is a look at what’s in store.
Meeting Patient Demands
According to the survey by Updox, around half of Americans say that if they were to use telehealth services post COVID-19, convenience (51%) would be among the most important factors to them. Drilling down deeper, of patients who like using telehealth services, 65% say it’s because telehealth visits are more convenient than in-office appointments. Additionally, Americans who like using telehealth like it because it’s easier to schedule an appointment via telehealth than an in-office appointment (44%), and because follow-ups/communications post-appointment are more streamlined (38%).
In the traditional healthcare environment, patients would often have to block out hours for a doctor’s appointment. But with telehealth, a visit can take as little as 15 minutes. This is not only more convenient for patients, but it also enables physicians to “see” more patients during the day. By using virtual care solutions, physicians can reach their patients at the touch of a button.
They can collect information ahead of the visit and send follow-ups out via text and even alert their whole patient base to important updates by broadcast messages. They can safely and effectively care for patients while helping reduce exposure to staff. Additionally, by leveraging video chat vs. a phone call, they can garner a stronger, more personal connection with patients, ultimately increasing patient engagement and satisfaction.
While telehealth has been an option for years, regulatory red tape and other barriers have prevented its widespread adoption. Out of necessity, COVID changed that.
Regulators, providers and patients will be hard-pressed to go back — and in response, patients are demanding consumer-friendly, convenient services going forward.
The Time is Now: Rethinking the Entire Patient Experience
We’re entering a new era of virtual care. We’ve already learned that virtual care is critical to practices and patients during lockdowns. But, it also provides convenience, as well as safety, to both physicians and patients. Over time, we will continue to see advancements in this field. For example, the evolution of “hybrid” practices which will feature a mix of essential, in-person appointments with telehealth visits occupying time in between.
As the industry continues to implement telehealth, and insurance and privacy regulations transform to meet these needs, patients will have the freedom to choose a provider anywhere in the country. And vice-versa. With telehealth, practices can expand their web of care, offering specialty and expertise to patients around the world, whom they wouldn’t be able to care for otherwise.
As we look ahead into the future of healthcare, we’ll also begin to see the “touchless” doctor’s office, which will include virtual check-ins, paperless billing and the phasing out of in-person waiting rooms — common touchpoints, wait times and high-traffic areas in the practice.
Virtual care is not only transforming the patient experience, it is offering the opportunity to re-think the entire patient experience. Once optimized, new revenue-generating opportunities will also now be possible, like assessments or closing care gaps, COVID has permanently altered the way we deliver care. To provide optimal care and patient engagement, we must continue to push for modernization in healthcare. This will ultimately lead to safer staff and healthier practices as a result.