By Mark Kestner
With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the adoption of new technology by the healthcare industry has grown rapidly with the patient use of telehealth services increasing by a staggering 3,000 percent.
According to a recent Google Cloud survey, 45 percent of physicians claim that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of their organization’s adoption of technology. Advancements that generally would have taken years or even decades have been made in a few months.
The current state of telehealth and hybrid care.
While telehealth services are not new, the pandemic has expanded its use exponentially. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30 percent of health center visits occurred via telehealth during the latter half of 2020. While that percentage has declined as our national comfort level with COVID-19 has increased, telehealth will remain a common practice across the US healthcare system.
The importance of the virtual waiting room.
Most patients will agree that telehealth has emerged as one of the most apparent gains from the pandemic. The lengthy wait in the emergency room or doctors’ office has long been an inconvenience and obstacle for many patients as well as a risk for exposure. As the pandemic mainstreamed telehealth and prescheduling technologies, patient times have been reduced. The ability to see your doctor while observing social distancing protocol proved beneficial to patients and has emerged as one change that will remain post-pandemic.
The new virtual waiting room helps patients manage their doctor’s office visits and provides for a safe intake adhering to social distancing guidelines, including the online triage processing. This is all accomplished with zero physical contact between staff and patient. .
Practices that have moved to a paperless environment, including leveraging electronic forms, contactless patient intake, and virtual waiting rooms, are seeing a significant increase in efficiency, decrease in costs, and, most importantly, a notable rise in patient engagement.
When patients log on for their telehealth appointment, they will answer a few basic intake questions. Depending on their responses, patients will be directed to the appropriate medical setting for their situation. The goal is to provide patients with the most appropriate care setting, ranging from a telehealth appointment to an emergency room visit, enabling hospitals to manage the inflow of patients better.
Ways that the function improves the overall hybrid care experience.
As telehealth has become more accessible, we’ve developed a greater understanding of its many varied applications. Having a live video interaction is not just beneficial to doctors for patient evaluations, it provides opportunities to connect patients with care providers at many steps in their journey, including:
- patient screenings,
- remote admissions,
- remote monitoring of vital signs,
- medication management,
- post-hospitalization follow-ups,
- treatment reminders,
- nutrition counseling,
- caregiver counseling, and
- coaching for patients with chronic conditions.
While a live video interaction between a patient and their health care provider is a crucial function of telehealth, there are also many situations in which it serves patients without a live or real-time connection. Known as asynchronous care, this includes situations in which patients can provide information to medical professionals remotely to be viewed and evaluated at a future time.
The waiting room contributes to improved hybrid patient care.
Statistics show that patients are satisfied with their care and that telehealth is an option they are ready to choose. As patients’ comfort level regarding telehealth has increased, it appears that their acceptance has as well. A recent study showed that more than 75 percent of telehealth patients were satisfied with their care during telehealth visits. More than 80 percent said that providers were thorough and that communication between patient and physician was good. More than 70 percent of those surveyed said that they would continue to use telehealth services in the future.
The accelerated acceptance of telehealth by healthcare providers and their patients places increased pressure on the healthcare industry to develop and maintain platforms that keep doctors well-informed to meet patients’ needs. It demands that healthcare providers implement a long-term strategic solution that can serve as a cornerstone blending virtual and in-person care to create a hybrid care solution.
For healthcare providers to thrive post-pandemic, practices must optimize the patient experience by offering hybrid services. Moving from the traditional waiting room and tedious paper forms to using online patient intake and triage methods have improved the patient experience moving it into the 21st century.
Dr. Mark Kestner has his MD from the University of Michigan and MBA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has a lengthy medical background with well-known stops in the U.S. Army, being a General Surgeon and then the Director of Trauma/Critical Care. He has served as a Chief Medical Officer in many organizations and currently, he is the CIO of MediGuru, a custom white labeled software solution that connects patients and doctors without interrupting the healthcare process.