Three Ways to Prepare for the Next Era of Telehealth
Consumer demand and expectations for telehealth will remain high above what they were before the pandemic. The evidence is all around us, including new research where 48% of Americans say if their current healthcare provider will not offer telehealth appointments, they will switch to one that does. Patients are not only demanding their providers offer virtual care, they want multiple options – for example the ability to have consultations from their home, from their smartphones, at work, school or a retail location – and they want a richer patient experience.
There are three things hospitals and health systems can do to succeed in this new era of heightened telehealth expectations:
- Ensure telehealth programs are scalable to meet the new volume and practice demands
- Make telehealth services more accessible
- Improve the virtual patient experience
System Check: Can Your Telehealth Program Scale?
Scalability is about more than patient volume and network bandwidth. While many providers will need to expand their capacity to meet elevated patient demand, they will also need to scale the breadth of their programs to support more practice areas and may need to deepen the functionality to improve the ease of use for both clinicians and patients. For example, post-pandemic, clinicians will want a single, enterprise telehealth system that is integrated with the health system’s electronic health record, lab systems and imaging, mitigating the need to toggle between multiple screens to provide care. As the need for chronic condition management and at-home monitoring continues to grow, the telehealth platform should be able to scale to support remote monitoring devices. Security will have to scale too as HIPAA requirements will likely revert to the original standards following the pandemic
Expand Access by Location, Times
Providers have been steadily expanding access to care, by both the patient populations they serve and by the locations where virtual care can be accessed, such as workplace clinics, pharmacies and other retail locations, community centers and schools. The infrastructure is available to accelerate those efforts, and patient demand may require it.
Many businesses want to offer telehealth services as part of their employee benefits packages, and the employer benefit segment is an excellent opportunity for providers to expand their telehealth programs. One hospital pursued this strategy after testing it through a benefits program it created for its own employees. That effort produced a 68% utilization rate, reduced unnecessary emergency department visits and grew to support 45 specialties that are now offered to other employers. Similarly, Hamilton Health developed a virtual care benefit program for an employer that produced a 150% return on investment after four months, including a 71% year-over-year reduction in per-employee/per-month medical expenses.
On-site workplace clinics are just one of many ways virtual care access can be extended to more locations. With the compact care kiosks equipped with secure communications links and digital diagnostic equipment that are available today and supported by cloud-hosted virtual care platforms, telehealth services can be made available almost anywhere.
Raise the Patient (and Clinician) Experience
As we move out of the pandemic, patients will have less tolerance for things like low-quality connections, limited practice areas and diagnostic capabilities, or the inability to have family members remotely attend consultations and medial visits. Many temporary telehealth programs and expansions that were put in place during the pandemic will be hard-pressed to meet the new, elevated consumer expectations on experience.
At the same time, it is important to ensure a good user experience for providers to improve utilization and prevent dissatisfaction.
These needs can be addressed by evolving to a highly integrated telehealth platform that provides a single, consistent interface for patients and providers, yet has the flexibility to support numerous communication options (video, audio, PC, tablet, smartphone, etc.), practice areas, digital devices and integrations to electronic health records systems, imaging systems and more.
There is no question that patients were more open to and satisfied with their telehealth encounters during the pandemic. Now is the time to build on that success and momentum by improving scalability, access and the patient experience.