When telehealth services were first introduced to the public, most people viewed the value of virtual care as a way to supplement in-person care. Instead of visiting a clinician at his or her physical office, a patient could have their check-up conducted from the comfort of their home through a simple video call.
Adoption of telehealth spiked during COVID-19, driven by rapid adoption as a necessity by health systems, payers, patients, and digital health companies. This created a natural experiment for many digital health products and services, allowing them to experience adoption that would have taken them years to achieve pre-COVID.
As more enterprises begin to embrace and launch digital healthcare offerings, industry leaders need to understand what telehealth can unlock for their patients and clinicians. If implemented properly, telehealth offers three key improvements to an organization’s care delivery model: an elevated, more accessible, end-to-end patient experience; the ability to increase clinical capacity to meet the rising demand for care; and a new way for clinicians to practice medicine that offers true flexibility and connection with patients while easing the clinician burnout crisis.
Add a “Virtual Front Door” to Your Organization
Many patients put off their healthcare needs due to excessive wait times and burdensome logistics of trying to see their primary care physician in person. Typically, appointments must be booked weeks in advance and require patients to take time out of their work day to commute to their in-office check-up. By granting patients the ability to self-serve and initiate appointments or tasks online, 24/7, from a space of their choosing, telehealth creates a “virtual front door” for healthcare organizations. Online intake forms can be filled out ahead of appointments at the patient’s leisure and allow healthcare organizations to triage patients more efficiently. In some instances, no appointment is even required to resolve the matter, and a clinician can handle asynchronously and message the patient back. In other cases, virtual appointments can be scheduled within minutes and conducted within the hour with an on-demand clinician workforce. Even if an in-person examination is deemed appropriate, telehealth streamlines the process so that patients don’t have to jump through hoops to receive the care they need. Telehealth also enables clinicians to meaningfully serve their patients outside of normal 9-to-5 business hours.
Increase Clinical Capacity to Meet Demand
Digital health and the clinician network required to support it promises another key benefit for the entire healthcare industry: the ability to generate increased supply of on-demand clinicians to meet the rising demand for care, from anywhere. The key to do this successfully is to “load balance” the supply and demand, both internally as an organization and industry-wide.
In order to properly serve patients, a healthcare organization’s clinicians must be fully credentialed and licensed within the state(s) where their patients reside, while aligning their shifts to the day-of-week and time-of-day needs within that state. This also requires state-level forecasting to match the availability of clinicians with the incoming patient demand, which is often a bumpy curve due to constant fluctuations in patient requests. Strategic telehealth infrastructure and a nationwide network of fully licensed clinicians are necessary to aggregate the number of patient visits with the number of clinicians who practice virtually, which smooths out the demand for the entire industry. If and when your organization has a successful telehealth rollout, the spike in demand will signal an opportunity to expand further. If a company is already tapped into an existing telehealth clinician network, you can successfully meet these demands without friction because you are already sharing capacity. This is why the whole industry benefits from a single aggregated supply of clinical capacity.
Maximize Clinician’s Time While Decreasing Burnout
Telehealth gives companies the ability to maximize their clinician’s time in new and varied ways. Maintaining a robust, on-demand workforce can mean high fixed costs, but if a clinician shows up for their shift and the video calls are light that day, there are many other ways that a clinician can get ahead of their tasks and still serve patient needs. For example, telehealth organizations can adopt the approach of “bundling” appointment types. Clinicians can also maximize any lag time in between patients to review prescriptions or conduct asynchronous visits while still maintaining high-quality care and hitting service level agreements. Of course, this approach needs to remain aware and considerate of clinician workloads. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, clinician burnout has hit a crisis point and has become a key contributor to the ongoing shortage. Therefore, it’s important to emphasize to your clinicians that they have the flexibility to set their own ideal hours and work remotely, while still allowing them some downtime in between shifts to reset. As with any business, a happy workforce is necessary for a successful operation.
In the end, the goal of incorporating telehealth into a company is not only to expand operations and increase impact, but also to better deliver on the original promise of healthcare: reaching as many patients in need as possible with high-quality care. Telehealth taps into a new generation and paradigm of healthcare and allows us to elevate the entire industry’s capacity to meet the rising demand for these crucial services. At the same time, it helps organizations reach their full potential in a way that’s both scalable and sustainable and create better experiences for clinicians and patients alike.
Guy Friedman is Co-Founder & CEO of SteadyMD.