Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth was primarily used to improve medication management, monitor individuals with chronic diseases and to triage and treat sick patients. Once COVID-19 hit, however, the use of telehealth exploded and is now being effectively used in many unique scenarios, such as providing care during quarantine and serving as a mechanism for reducing emergency room visits.
During COVID, telehealth became a lifeline for practices that needed to continue seeing patients despite physical office closures, but it also won over patients and became a preferred option for many. In fact, over 40% of consumers have used telehealth since the pandemic began, and many have become accustomed to the flexibility, safety and convenience it offers. Moving forward, 76% of patients are interested in using telehealth in a post-COVID world.
Now that it’s clear telehealth is here to stay, what’s next for patient care? As we look ahead, providers must work to deploy a virtual care strategy that prioritizes patient engagement and strikes the right balance between in-person and virtual visits to ensure optimal outcomes.
Keeping Pace with Changing Patient Expectations of Telehealth
The consumerization of healthcare – marked by convenience, digital channels and a more engaging relationship between patients and their doctors – has been on its way for years. But the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this demand significantly.
Today, patients make healthcare decisions with a consumer-oriented mindset and have become accustomed to the convenience, safety and flexibility that telehealth offers. In fact, more than 8 in 10 patients who have used telehealth since COVID-19 say they love/like it. And, of patients who like using telehealth services, 65% say it’s more convenient, 63% say they like it because they don’t have to worry about being exposed to other potentially sick patients, and nearly half of Americans (49%) say that if they were to use telehealth services post COVID-19, seeing or speaking with a healthcare professional of their choice rather than someone assigned to them would be important to them.
The next step in exceeding customer expectations and prioritizing patient safety in a post-COVID environment is deploying a comprehensive virtual care strategy. From a paperless office and virtual waiting rooms to providing a balanced cadence of in-person and virtual appointments, providers should begin implementing tools and processes that will enable them to offer a full virtual care experience. As patient preferences shift, the industry will need to continue to innovate and transform all aspects of care.
Transforming Healthcare Practices: Implementing a Full Virtual Care Strategy
While telehealth provided a channel for patients and physicians to connect in a safe and productive manner during COVID-19, developing a virtual care strategy goes beyond a one-off telehealth visit — today’s patients expect a personalized health experience that offers options for both virtual care and in-office encounters. Therefore, for practices to become more efficient, maintain revenue and grow their business, they need to digitize more aspects of the patient experience both in and out of the office. From secure text and electronic fax, to patient reminders and touchless billing, virtual care must be integrated throughout the entire practice workflow. Beyond these, solutions to help manage the in-person patient experience from intake to treatment — which support social distancing and eliminate inefficiencies and unnecessary wait times for both patients and physicians — will be critical. For example, contactless solutions such as virtual check-in and waiting rooms, and completing and managing electronic forms, will help improve safety, clinical workflow and efficiency, all while enabling doctors to spend more time with patients.
A strong virtual care strategy will also include identifying the types of visits that are best suited to telehealth versus in-person. For example, patients that need care for a reason unrelated to COVID-19 while the pandemic is still a health concern (e.g.., management of a chronic health condition, prescription refill, etc.), physicians that are able to provide care but are unable to physically be in the office, and routine visits to diagnose and treat common conditions are all good candidates for telehealth. In these scenarios, virtual care has benefitted both the provider and the patient, allowing them to prioritize safety, efficiency and convenience.
By developing a roadmap to leverage virtual care both now and post-COVID-19, physicians can ultimately be more productive, engage with more patients and run a more profitable practice.
Overcoming Telehealth Reimbursement Hurdles
According to a recent survey of physicians, more than 56% of respondents reported telehealth to be very to extremely important to the future of their practice, and 95.2% reported that they plan to offer telehealth in the future. These findings underscore that COVID-19 has forever changed healthcare delivery — and that telehealth is not likely to drop back to its pre-COVID-19 rates. However, the biggest barrier physicians see to long-term adoption of telehealth is reimbursement (55.1%).
Reimbursement is critical for practices to maintain revenue. Moving forward, our industry needs permanent reimbursement of virtual care in order to truly transform patient care, and to collectively assist in maximizing patient engagement, improving outcomes and enabling more timely, efficient connections between patients and their physicians. We all have an opportunity to make telehealth an ongoing continuum of care. Here are a few ways how:
- Support your professional associations in their efforts around reimbursement
- Contact your local congressional leaders
- Sign petitions on both a local and national level encouraging reimbursement legislation
- Write op-eds and speak out on social media, lending your voice to the issue
In order for practices to flourish — and provide optimal patient care in a post-COVID world — a long-term virtual care strategy that includes telehealth options, as well as traditional in-office care is essential. Lawmakers have already shown that telehealth is a priority moving forward, and as patient demand and practice adoption continues, reimbursement is sure to follow.
Michael Morgan, CEO of Updox
With a successful track record in helping organizations use technology to transform the way healthcare is delivered, Mike has more than 25 years of healthcare leadership within software, behavioral health, and HIT organizations. Updox was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for the past six consecutive years.