The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telehealth out of necessity. The risk of infection from face-to-face clinical interactions forced health providers to give their patients alternative channels to receive care, making virtual visits commonplace.
Patient and provider response to telehealth has been quite positive. The technology is not only allowing providers to accomplish their pandemic-driven objectives, but it also is bringing new levels of convenience to patient and provider interactions. However, increased telehealth adoption and use also is elevating patient expectations.
People have grown acccustomed to receiving streamlined customer experiences powered by technology in other industries – including retail, finance and hospitality. Prior to the pandemic, healthcare did not leverage much customer-facing technology, and therefore was not held to the same standards.
“The explosion of telehealth in response to COVID-19 changed that,” said Juli Stover, chief strategy officer at eVisit, a telehealth technology and services company. Virtual engagements have given patients a taste of how technology can be applied to their care, and it is helping to accelerate the consumerization of the industry.
“Patients now expect their healthcare providers to deliver digital experiences of similar quality to those they receive from other consumer-based businesses,” she continued. “Healthcare providers must optimize their use of virtual care platforms and other technologies to deliver on these demands for convenience, self-service and efficiency.”
Stover says there are three ways providers can leverage telehealth to increase efficiency and revenue. In this interview with Healthcare IT Newsshe spells out these three ways to help provider organization CIOs and telemedicine executives to boost virtual care.
Q. What is the first way providers can leverage telehealth to increase efficiency and revenue?
A. Providers need to ensure that they are using telehealth to appropriately assess and triage patients. Virtual visits aren’t an appropriate care delivery mechanism for every patient, but the technology can and should be used to quickly assess patient acuity and determine the most appropriate environment of care for them. For example, does a patient need to visit the ER or urgent care center, or can their condition be diagnosed and treated in a virtual setting?
A physician leader at a renowned medical group confided in me that he receives multiple personal text messages every week from friends and family asking for his advice on medical issues and courses of treatment. Questions that he answers.
Healthcare providers need to enable this type of digital-first interaction and care navigation in their telehealth platforms. Quick and efficient patient assessment and care navigation via telehealth enhances the customer experience and helps reduce the number of patients who go to the ER unnecessarily.
Integrating a telehealth solution with complementary technologies such as an application that leverages artificial intelligence to evaluate pre-diagnosis medical symptoms can further streamline front-end patient assessment and care navigation. The ability to determine the patient’s condition ahead of a visit allows providers to offer personalized health services while lowering costs and improving access to care.
Q. What is the second way providers can leverage telehealth to increase efficiency and revenue?
A. Healthcare providers should leverage telehealth to increase capacity. Staffing shortages are a crippling issue for many healthcare providers and have only gotten worse following the pandemic. Even prior to COVID-19, many primary care physician offices were so overwhelmed they had difficulty scheduling patients for same-day or same-week visits.
Today, limited staff combined with increased patient demand is creating wait times of several weeks to several months, particularly for new patients.
With telehealth, providers can supplement their physical clinic capacity with virtual capacity. Not only does this add revenue by increasing visit volume, but it might also save patient relationships by preventing patients from seeking care from another provider.
And as telehealth options continue to expand, the competitive landscape is no longer limited to the geographic locations in which health systems operate. There are more options for episodic (for example, urinary tract infections) and ongoing (for example, mental health) treatment.
Of course, the ability to collect payment via your telehealth platform is essential to ensuring that this effort has a positive impact on revenue. It is imperative that your virtual care platform can quickly and easily collect copays and bill insurance companies.
Q. What is the third way?
A. Healthcare providers also should leverage telehealth to facilitate the patient journey. Far too often, patients are left to their own devices when it comes to coordinating follow-up care.
For example, a patient may be asked to follow up with a PCP or specialist upon release from the ER. If the patient doesn’t have an existing relationship with one of these providers, they are most likely to ask their friends and family for recommendations.
This practice of placing the burden of care on the patient not only creates a poor experience, but can also lead to patient leakage. In other words, rather than the patient receiving this follow-up care from a provider within the same health system or care network, they choose an out-of-network provider.
Virtual care should be used to connect these dots, facilitating the pathway to care that ensures a seamless patient journey. Rather than instructing a patient to schedule a follow-up appointment with a specialist, providers should use telehealth to connect the patient to a specialist’s office prior to discharge to coordinate next steps.
Helping patients establish this downstream care relationship is the epitome of good customer service in healthcare. Furthermore, connecting care in this manner leads to a higher patient adherence.
Finally, telehealth is an ideal way for all caregivers involved in a patient’s care journey to stay connected and exchange information on the patient’s condition. When a provider can communicate directly with other caregivers, then nothing gets lost in translation.
Patients often can fail to communicate important details to providers on their own, and these omissions often lead to repeat tests that contribute to wasteful spending. Telehealth can give providers a shared communication channel that ensures better patient care.
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