Since the beginning of the pandemic, telehealth has emerged as an invaluable part of care delivery. And by all indications, virtual care is here to stay even after the threat of COVID-19 passes — in large part because of consumer demand. In a report by Qualtrics commissioned by Zoom, 61% of respondents in the U.S. who have used video for healthcare said they plan to attend healthcare appointments both virtually and in person in the future.
The key elements are choice and competition. Consumers want to be able to choose how and where they receive care — and that may include retail and direct-to-consumer solutions or their primary care provider. Sometimes an in-person appointment may be preferred or required, and other times, patients want to save time and money by using high-quality telehealth options.
As more healthcare organizations look beyond the pandemic to building long-term telehealth and virtual care solutions, reliability, consistency, and quality are key to driving adoption, building trust, and improving the patient experience. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Find a solution that integrates into your workflows
When the right technology meets the right application, it becomes nearly invisible to end users. That’s what providers and patients want: a telehealth solution that “just works” and feels as comfortable and intuitive as something they’ve been using for years. The ability to integrate and customize plays a key role in creating that experience.
During the pandemic, I met with many healthcare organizations who stressed that they need their telehealth solution to live in the workflows they use every day.
If your telehealth solution doesn’t sit comfortably in your workflows, it could lead to a variety of issues. If providers need to switch between multiple platforms in their day-to-day work, it could potentially increase time spent on administrative tasks, limit time with patients, and lead to missed appointments and lost revenue. Administrators may find that a parallel workflow duplicates efforts and costs, while an integrated solution could streamline processes and cut down on inefficient spending.
Look for a telehealth solution that has the ability to integrate with your EHR or HIT system, or allows for integration with open platforms through APIs, the latter of which provides flexibility and customization opportunities. A seamless integration enables providers to focus on practicing medicine without fiddling with controls or toggling between platforms.
The challenges and tragedies of the past year are well-known, but amidst the hardships of 2020 some hopeful signals have emerged in healthcare. Patients and the people and systems who care for them have been forced to do things differently this year, and many of these experiments will be with us to stay. These are some trends that will strengthen and take shape in 2021.
#1 Stakeholders embrace asynchronous
Payors, providers and other industry stakeholders who may have been reluctant to engage with async models in the past have been won over in 2020. The pandemic accelerated the understanding that async can safely and efficiently care for patients at scale. Providers who waded into async out of necessity during Covid have found that it allows for less rushed, more direct communication with patients that in many cases results in better care, while increasing provider flexibility and quality of life. Payors are realizing telehealth offers smart savings compared to legacy systems. State laws are coming along too — in May Maryland changed legislation allowing for asynchronous telemedicine to be accepted, and we expect more states to modernize in this way.
#2 Decrease of PCP as gatekeeper
Today’s young adults were already less likely than those of previous generations to have a primary care provider, and this trend will grow as PCPs close practices and people grow accustomed to a la carte care. Circumstances of 2020 have led people to get care formerly channeled through a primary provider directly, in a diverse array of settings. Covid swabs at drive-through clinics, flu shots at supermarket pharmacies, and prescription medications through telehealth, combined with increased utilization of home monitoring devices and wearables, have transformed patients (for better or worse) into their own care coordinators.
Despite the world facing the challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and even conflict resulting in violence, the power of technology means there’s always something to feel positive about.
What is news-worthy when it comes to IT and technology for the healthcare industry? Here are our top four reasons for staying hopeful:
More Virtual Treatments Mean More Healthy People
The beauty of having an IT infrastructure stretching across any country is that more people get access to medical services and consultations. Even before COVID-19 happened, doctors were giving advice and medical feedback to individuals in remote areas or those unable to travel via video calls.
During the pandemic, these telehealth resources were used in greater numbers in order to minimize interaction between patients in waiting rooms and hospitals. Even though the virus took many of us by surprise, certain aspects of our society were already geared for dealing with the challenge.
By A.J. Hanna, vice president client advocacy, SYKES.
People’s knowledge of telehealth isn’t necessarily leading to usage — at least, that is what we found at SYKES as a part of our survey on attitudes toward telehealth. Telehealth, in its purest form, has existed for decades. Physicians, whether by phone, radio, or other forms of transmission, have been calling on clinicians from outside of their communities to assist them with second opinions or provide specialty expertise for many years.
And while the internet has opened up new and more expansive opportunities for telehealth — including making it easier for the remote caregiver and the patient to interact via both video and audio — regulatory restrictions, reimbursement inconsistency, attitudes toward effectiveness and other factors have prevented it from finding its full promise.
COVID-19 and its ability to spread easily and rapidly has pushed the healthcare system in the United States and around the world to take a more expansive view of how telehealth can be used. Given the growing importance of this tool for triage of those potentially infected by the novel coronavirus, we wanted to first assess how many people even knew what telehealth was.
When presented with the question, “Telehealth is the use of communication technologies to support long-distance health care, instead of an in-person appointment. Are you familiar with telehealth?,” over 42 percent of those contacted for this survey were not even aware of the service (in excess of 1400 people). While usage of telehealth services has increased over the last several years, there are still many people who do not equate services available to them as being telehealth.
Of those few in our survey who knew what telehealth was and had actually used the service, satisfaction rates were very high. This follows trends from other studies that find that telehealth satisfaction levels exceed other parts of the healthcare industry. And not surprisingly, the primary benefit that they cite is the ability to avoid being with others in a clinical waiting room. But for those who had not been engaged in a telehealth visit, or had not considered the service, some expressed concern that telehealth would only be effective for minor illnesses and diagnoses. Others felt that a diagnosis would be difficult without the “touch and feel” aspect of a care visit.
Perhaps not surprisingly, respondents in the 55+ age group were less likely to have used telehealth or expressed concerns about its effectiveness. Because many in the upper level of this age group are likely Medicare beneficiaries, and because coverage by Medicare has been restricted to specific conditions, geographic regions and care settings, this is not surprising. Recent decisions by the federal government to relax restrictions for Medicare coverage of telehealth as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic may help to close the gap in utilization represented in our survey.
If there is any outcome of the current pandemic as it relates to telehealth, it may be that it will encourage more people to consider using it. Nearly 60 percent of respondents indicated that COVID-19 has made them more likely to consider using a telehealth service in the future. Almost 25 percent of our respondents had not linked COVID-19 to their opinion of using telehealth. However, those numbers will surely change as the health system in the United States continues to utilize all means necessary to care for the health of people in ways that prevent further spread of the disease.
With the fourth technological revolution in full swing, more and more digital innovations are changing the world we live in. From having virtual assistants on our devices to directly transforming computer designs to objects through 3D printing, it’s safe to say that these emerging technologies have made many aspects of our lives more efficient.
This is why it’s imperative for healthcare professionals today to utilize technology to improve their practice and enhance patient experiences. Not only will it help treat patients more effectively, but it will also help streamline the numerous services in the healthcare system. With this in mind, here are technological advancements that could positively shape the state of healthcare and the patient experience:
Wearable technology first came to prominence in the healthcare industry with the development of fitness trackers. These are smart devices that are incorporated into clothing or worn as an accessory, which help patients proactively monitor their health by informing them of their heart rate, blood pressure, and physical activity statistics. Now, the data collected by wearables is becoming much more advanced, as a new design can even help detect breast cancer.
For many patients, visiting the hospital or their doctor’s clinic can be a double-edged sword. Although seeing their physicians helps keep their health in-check, some people find their visits to be a hassle, as commuting or simply moving around can be a tiring and costly activity for them. Thankfully, through virtual healthcare innovations, patients don’t have to experience such inconveniences.
Rapidly advancing technology has made its presence felt in many branches of the healthcare sector, causing dramatic and drastic changes. Healthcare professionals today rely on technology in many different ways – from maintaining documents and keeping records to optimizing patient out-times and remote treatments. Not to mention the ability to provide more accurate diagnoses.
After years of effort to sort out PR, regulatory, and reimbursement challenges, telemedicine appears to be on the right track of becoming commonplace, ready to represent a sizable portion of care delivery. That near-term future has crafted a new term – virtual hospitals.
Catch the definition, if you can
Now, what does that term actually mean? We’re certainly talking about telemedicine, but that can mean a lot of different things to different people. Is it about iPad chats between doctors and rural patients, or about the implementation of IoT technology for AI-powered remote monitoring? The fact is that even professionals who’ve been involved with connected health technologies for over 20 years are not able to catch the definition by its tail.
The meaning behind “virtual hospital” usually varies by organization. In most cases, it stands for the group of intensive care physicians who are working in a call center environment. There’s a lot of screens and technology involved, but mostly to guide other users in remote places. Many smaller institutions, besides the fact that they’re difficult to reach, also don’t have full-time specialists. Doctors from virtual hospitals can prevent the waste of time by guiding the staff through medical procedures in an emergency or in critical cases.
Other organizations have embraced the concept of virtual hospitals as central freestanding facilities staffed with healthcare professionals. The best-known example of this concept is the St.Louis-based Mercy Virtual Care Center, opened in 2015 and labeled as the first virtual hospital. Their aim is to reduce the time it takes patients to meet their healthcare providers, but also to eliminate the need for very sick patients to come into hospitals frequently.
Efficient access across the globe
The term ?virtual? may not be the best pick since it sounds like it’s not real, while the provided care is very real. The point is that clinicians can be located anywhere across the globe. Although almost none of them dub themselves as a virtual hospital, around 65% of U.S. hospitals connect patients and practitioners remotely.
On the other hand, a recent survey carried out in Australia has shown that nearly 50% would never visit a virtual hospital. And this is not just because they have Medicare – it’s also about the lack of knowledge on the topic, resulting in the fear that they won’t get the same quality of care as an in-office visit.
To spread across the globe, it’s obvious that this puzzling term needs to be pinned down and explained. So, what does it all boil down to? Its core value is about two things — access and efficiency, and they need to work together.
By Kevin von Keyserling, chief strategy officer, Keyfactor.
As value-based care becomes more prevalent, healthcare delivery organizations (HDOs) are continuously looking to transform the patient care model with goals of reducing costs, optimizing patient outcomes and driving better financial performance. As new channels, delivery agencies, and patients taking greater responsibility in managing their care in the continued shift to telemedicine or virtual healthcare, digital security has become an even more important component of this evolving ecosystem.
Given the growth of connected medical devices, the potential for security lapses from release through use is considerable. While implanted devices draw the most attention, the broader universe of medical care gadgets can also warrant concern. In the U.S. alone, hospitals can average anywhere between 10 to 15 connected devices per-bed. With this kind of scale, the number of security gaps can be significant.
Medical devices that feature wireless connectivity, remote monitoring, and near-field communication technology allow health professionals to adjust and fine tune implanted devices remotely and in real-time. Devices capture and transmit data across many channels and receiving parties, but many fail to incorporate data security protocols and standards. Older devices that remain in the field may be using outdated security software. There is also significant ambiguity on who owns the data, which can result in nobody taking the lead on managing current security practices. Put these factors together and it’s easy to understand why healthcare data is highly susceptible to security failures.
Optimizing Data and Device Security
Healthcare has the highest breach-related costs of any industry at $408 per-stolen record. As patients willingly share personally identifiable information (PII) reliable controls must be in place to protect patient privacy. Every identity within an organization must be covered by layers of digital security, and the process can be broken down into smaller bites to ensure you’re setting the stage for optimized data and device security without taking everything on all at once.
Establish necessary barriers: Improve the strength of targeted devices between devices and outside threats and be aware of your device inventory always – no device should ever be left unattended! Don’t leave cell phones or laptops out in open spaces, but if you do, utilize features such as auto-lock. Ensure that all devices are locked in a restricted and secure area when not in use.
Define your security protocol: Make sure to have a regular cadence in which passwords need to be updated and utilize multi-factor authentication when possible.
Thanks to remarkable innovations in healthcare technology, the days of having to wait for a doctor’s appointment and travel to their surgical practice are becoming a thing of the past. We have now entered an age where, instead of patients having to attend at a medical practice, their doctor can now visit them virtually in hologram form. It sounds like something out of the realms of science fiction, but this is now a wonderful reality. Welcome to the healthcare of the future!
Home Healthcare Adaptations constructed this infographic, which takes a look at the route that healthcare is set to take in the foreseeable future. The virtual healthcare method outlined above has the potential to create vast savings for the healthcare industry, both financially and in terms of human hours. Indeed, an average reduction of just five minutes in ambulatory visits could possibly free up $58 million in physician capacity.
This new virtual healthcare world could prove highly beneficial both for doctors and the general public. Healthcare professionals can save time on treating patients, which in turn enables them to treat a larger number of patients, and it also reduces the need for them to physically visit a patient’s home, as they can now do so through a hologram from their surgical practice. For patients, it means they don’t have to spend time travelling to a surgical practice and, with doctors able to tend to patients more quickly, it will also reduce patients’ waiting time to receive vital treatment.
Despite these obvious benefits, there is still some resistance to virtual healthcare, with a viewpoint that it will be costly to implement and will require medical professionals to become licencsed telemedicine practitioners. However, as the world becomes more technologically advanced in all aspects, it is hard to see these wonderful new medical practices not becoming regularly used in the near future.