By Perry Price
The healthcare industry has long been on the verge of digital transformation. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most healthcare organizations had plans to upgrade their communications technology to meet rising patient expectations for digital experiences. However, it wasn’t until the pandemic further accentuated patient expectations for improved digital experiences that healthcare organizations felt an urgent need to act on their digital transformation agendas.
As we navigate the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry is continuing to experience significant amounts of change. Furthermore, the health crisis brought underlying technology issues in the industry to the surface and, now a year into it, there is no slowing down digital transformation – or going back.
As the healthcare industry continues to embrace the now necessary rapid digital transformation, three key trends are shaping the future of digital communications in healthcare: upgrading digital infrastructure, making telehealth more accessible and offering options for healthcare at home. Enabling these trends is the need for an advanced underlying communications infrastructure that will enable healthcare organizations to move forward in this new digital era.
Time for an Upgrade
The future is looking bright for healthcare organizations across the nation bogged down by outdated communications technology. Today, more than a year into the pandemic, recent changes in legislation with the American Jobs Plan are allocating a great deal of money to upgrading aging hospital communications infrastructure – changes that will enable healthcare organizations to meet the rising expectations of today’s modern patients. The American Jobs Plan seeks to improve not only digital infrastructure for veterans’ hospitals and clinics, but also funds expanded access for patients across the nation to receive healthcare at home. In addition to benefitting increasing patient expectations and making care more accessible, upgrading communications infrastructure will also further accelerate the growth of the low-friction, digital front door portion of the healthcare industry, bringing care to a wider patient population.
Telehealth is Table Stakes
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began early last year, patients had already been calling for more accessible telehealth options. With an on-the-go, 24/7/365 lifestyle increasingly becoming the norm across the nation, patients had come to expect their healthcare providers to offer options for virtual care just as they would be able to do business with organizations in nearly every other industry.
When shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders rippled across the nation preferences for virtual care quickly turned into a necessity in many cases. For instance, consider the scenario of the chronically ill patients who were no longer able to risk leaving home to visit the clinic for a routine check-up. Or perhaps they were unable to visit the clinic due to shutdowns or limited business hours. In these and many other cases, telehealth solutions made it possible for chronically ill patients to continue to receive care while minimizing their risk of COVID-19 by avoiding in-person appointments with their provider.
Patients now expect the option to receive care via a secure telehealth solution for non-urgent issues and will seek out care from another healthcare organization when providers are unable to do so. As the nation begins to open up, COVID-19 is likely to linger for years to come. Healthcare organizations that lack options for patients to receive routine care through telehealth are likely to be left behind as today’s patients expect telehealth to be easily accessible.
Bringing the Hospital Home
As COVID-19 further accelerated the need for digital care and communications, bringing care directly into the homes of higher-risk patients has become an increasing trend. The pandemic overwhelmed hospitals across the nation. Some at full capacity had no choice but to turn away some COVID-19 patients as well as individuals that needed care for other conditions. To free up space at hospitals for these patients, many hospital systems are now turning to ‘hospital at home’ models where hospital-level care is provided to acutely ill elderly patient populations in the comfort of their own homes.
As we move forward, implementing hospital at home models where possible has numerous benefits for both the organization and its patients. Patients who are eligible to receive care at home often shorten the duration of care that is needed and have a better patient experience – especially those patients that received care out of their homes during the pandemic where being admitted to a hospital would have prohibited their family from being able to visit. While the main benefit to hospital systems is increased bed availability, they also can reduce costs and improve efficiency of staff.
To support this increasingly virtual, mobile, and diverse healthcare environment, providers must evolve to a strategy of ubiquitous, secure, and consumer friendly communications. Upgrades in hospital communication infrastructure coupled with telehealth and hospital level care at home are trends driving these needs. As a result, decisions and actions focused on the adoption of digital communications will make unified communications a priority.
Perry Price is Co-Founder and CEO of Revation Systems, a leader in cloud-based, compliant messaging and communications.