By Linda Comp-Noto
Since the COVID-19 crisis emerged, healthcare providers have had to rapidly adapt to the fast-evolving needs of patients, in order to provide the care they need. An efficient solution for prevention and treatment during the pandemic, Telehealth is also being used for non-urgent communications, to build the trust of patients and minimize pressures facing providers. With providers now reporting 175 times the number of pre-pandemic Telehealth users, the adoption of remote clinical services is expected to continue its trajectory and become the most available source of healthcare in the ‘new normal’. Patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, can make full use of the convenience on offer and have full access to clinicians, their medications, and medical information – ensuring that they receive the right care, at the right place, at the right time. This expansion of access to necessary care, is allowing Telehealth agents to anticipate patient needs, and acts as a preventative measure for future contingencies – a level of agility not available when booking visits to physical facilities.
Increasing patient engagement with remote health monitoring
In the midst of the public health emergency, both clinicians and patients alike were empowered, following the relaxation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the U.S. By remaining compliant and only using remote communication technologies to serve patients – including FaceTime, Messenger, and Skype – practitioners now have flexibility in supervising patients’ conditions from afar. As lockdown restrictions took hold, the use of digital technologies to observe patients’ health facilitated routine care and decisions to be made from afar. This year’s inclusion of remote patient monitoring (RPM) under federal reimbursement coverage, is now further increasing the demand for virtual care in the U.S., with opportunities for RPM set to transform the industry.
Innovations in smart phone and app technology are allowing patients to be in control of their own healthcare, and to be comfortable in doing so. Outside of traditional healthcare settings, patient data is gathered to bridge the gap and support patients in their everyday lives – not just within traditional healthcare facilities. This continuous stream of data, generated in real-time, facilitates an extension of the relationship between patients and their general practitioners, having a positive impact in reducing hospital visits. A report conducted by KLAS Research revealed that 38 percent of healthcare organizations, running RPM programs for those with chronic diseases, reported reduced admissions. By proactively monitoring the blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate of those with chronic illnesses, clinicians are effectively putting preventative measures in place – for example, anticipating when a patient may require a change in medication. This dedicated level of round-the-clock care brings daily assurance to vulnerable patients who may be isolating, and is the key to delivering better patient outcomes, and a more efficient healthcare system.
The High-Tech, High-Touch approach to healthcare
To support the end-to-end patient journey, and engage with them at every touch point, healthcare providers are increasingly implementing a digital front door strategy. In a metaphorical sense, the digital front door represents how healthcare organizations engage with patients from the offset – assessing needs, advising on treatment and care. Today’s consumers are well-accustomed to getting what they need, when they need it. Healthcare is no exception, especially in the ‘new normal’. Over three quarters (76 percent) of U.S. hospitals are now connected with patients and healthcare professionals, using a plethora of digital technologies – video, audio, chat – that consumers have already adopted into their daily lives. As a disruptor to traditional care, the digital front door is providing organizations with an opportunity to differentiate themselves, whilst offering patients the flexibility to schedule appointments, process payments, and speak to clinicians from anywhere, at any time.
By regularly checking in on patients and developing a strong virtual presence, healthcare agents can also play a more active role in combatting the mental health crisis. Nearly half of U.S. adults have admitted the pandemic has affected their mental health, as the psychological impact of COVID-19 continues to create fears and anxieties. Trained frontline healthcare agents can utilize video and chat technology to extend psychological support, handle sensitive topics, and effectively take on the role as a counsellor for high-risk patients.
Whilst the nature of healthcare delivery has transformed drastically in the last six months, the end goal for providers remains – to provide the best patient experience. The rapid adoption of mobile technologies, has changed the way practitioners express empathy, in a sector historically based on face-to-face interaction. Without direct care, and COVID-19 cases continuing to surge, organizations will need to nurture the patient relationship in a way that builds trust and reassures from afar.
The future of Telehealth
The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be over, healthcare organizations will now be looking ahead and planning a robust Telehealth strategy that’s built for further disruption. During a period in which lockdown restrictions hindered patient’s ability to visit their doctors, virtual care provided an anchor for clinicians to anticipate and attend to patient needs. Now, as the post-pandemic world takes shape, patient preferences will continue to lean towards a contactless healthcare system as they expect faster, simpler, and safer experiences.
Linda Comp-Noto, Division President of Healthcare at Teleperformance, discusses how the reliance on Telehealth services during the crisis will persist, and how opportunities for remote health monitoring are transforming virtual care.