By Tara Mahoney, head of healthcare practice, Avaya.
COVID-19 has forever changed the U.S. healthcare system with the acceleration of digital transformation and remote collaboration. As 2020 past us now, we’re getting a clearer picture of what post-pandemic healthcare in the U.S. will look like (or rather, require). Based on my industry background at Avaya, here are four predictions as we continue into 2021:
Prediction #1: Telehealth is here to stay and it’s forcing us to reimagine current care models. It must and will evolve.
The pandemic thrusted organizations into the inevitable telehealth revolution, but it’s not likely COVID-19 will push the timetable forward as much as some claim. Telehealth is about much more than “just” video-based physician visits. It will evolve to cover many workflows where patients and care teams cannot be together, including virtual rounding, remote patient monitoring, bedside consultation. It’s about being able to seamlessly coordinate across the entire health organization in a way that positively impacts key measures of clinical quality – all while addressing information security concerns and abiding by HIPAA regulations.
It’s about the use of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) for collecting important healthcare data in real-time to enable proactive, remote care delivery. It’s about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics to make critical predictions about patient diagnoses, treatment side effects, staffing, and expenses. It’s a complex journey, only made more complex by historically slow-to-change industry policies.
Health systems pulled together in 2020, but that’s not enough for sustainable digital transformation. Organizations will take their time navigating the complexities of digitization and remote collaboration as they embrace a new future of operations and patient care. We will see current care models change, albeit incrementally.
Prediction #2: Health organizations will use some form of AI or automation in 2021 to improve the patient experience.
From real-time interaction analytics and intent to data integration and analysis to intelligent contact center support to automated, proactive notifications, the need to drive efficiencies and better plan adherence has ignited the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation in healthcare. These technologies allow us, not only to replicate care interactions with fewer human resources but to enhance actual patient – care team interactions.
One of the greatest applications of AI in healthcare moving forward will be for video conferencing as virtual physician visits, nurse triage, and patient monitoring become the norm. Adding AI capabilities on top of existing cloud-based video meeting and team collaboration solutions will dramatically improve staff focus and efficiency – and thus, quality of care – by removing audible distractions. For example, Avaya Spaces can intelligently detect speech and separate it from all background noise so what users hear is speech alone (this way you don’t hear another person in the room talking on their phone or the TV playing in the background). The solution can also block out backgrounds for a more professional setting. On top of this is keyword analysis, quality management tools, clinical documentation, and other AI-powered capabilities to enhance video interaction in the patient-provider environment.
Prediction #3: Organizations will have no choice but to coordinate and centralize patient access, and CPaaS and automation will ease the challenges.
It has always been challenging for the health ecosystem – hospitals, physician practices, pharmaceuticals, payors, and other involved parties – to seamlessly coordinate around the delivery of patient services. COVID-19 has changed this, forcing organizations to create, for the first time, a process for collecting and harmonizing electronic health records across the entire health ecosystem. Of note is the newly introduced Interoperability and Patient Access Regulation, which requires hospitals to send notifications about patient admissions, transfers, and discharges to a variety of other provider organizations. This only further cements the importance of secure, HIPAA-compliant communications.
Communications Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS) will enable organizations to quickly comply by setting up automated, proactive, HIPAA-compliant notifications to designated parties via their medium of choice (email, voice, SMS text message). The solution is simple to get started with, easy to use and control, and as a cloud solution requires providers to only pay for the services that are used. With or without a crisis, centralized patient access is crucial for better understanding and improving the end-to-end care journey. The pandemic catalyzed in this area of healthcare, and CPaaS will be a major change-enabler.
Prediction #4: Multiexperience will be the beginning of the end for the “call the doctor” and “traditional” patient portal.
Only 20% of patients use patient portals. Why? Because they’re not in the moment of the patient needing an answer and because patients are used to just calling the doctor. Patients are starved for a more effortless, contextual, and consistent communications experience regardless of device, touchpoint, or interaction type. Multiexperience (MX) solves this.
Imagine this scenario: A patient (let’s call her Tina) is on vacation in Maui and calls her healthcare provider’s 800 number to schedule a medical appointment. Using a mobile experience solution that recognizes when calls are coming from a mobile phone, the provider can say something along the lines of, “I see you are calling from a mobile phone. Would you like to find a provider near you?” If Tina agrees, the provider would drop the call and send an SMS message that contains a URL to a mobile-optimized Web page that displays her home location (enabled by the mobile experience solution) and her physical location (Maui, enabled by the organization’s mobile Web app), asking her to select a provider, appointment, etc. near her preferred location.
All data collected is pushed into a “Context Store” for later use in case she calls back and wants to speak with a live agent. This digital deflection is easy for patients to use, meeting them where they’re at in the context of their service journey, and reduces the provider’s dependency on human resources, allowing them to focus on higher-value interactions. At Avaya, we’ve seen health providers deflect up to 50% of level 1 billing calls with this kind of HIPAA- and PCI-compliant digital self-service.
We may not know what the future holds, but one thing is certain: COVID-19 has signaled a clear and overdue change in the way patients access care and how and where organizations deliver that care.