Virtual Care’s Ability to Expand Provider Bandwidth

Guest Authored by Jenny Poth, Associate, Ziegler Proprietary Investments

You find a suspicious new mole on your arm. In a panic, you call your local dermatology clinic in downtown Philadelphia. You are floored to learn that the next available opening on the physician’s schedule is a staggering 78 days away.(1) Problems with long wait times to access physician care certainly aren’t limited to the City of Brotherly Love or to dermatology: the average wait time to visit a new primary care provider in US metro areas is 21.7 days and for an OB/Gyn, it is 23.7 days.(2) When discussing reasons for this problem, we often point to an imbalance of supply and demand – that there are simply too few healthcare providers to care for all the patients who want to see them. However, studies indicate that the real problem may not be in the supply itself, but rather in how the supply is used. A Harvard Business Review report published earlier this year explains that the real reasons for an apparent shortage in healthcare providers are actually issues with an inefficient use of labor, uneven distribution of providers, and other factors related to the delivery of care – not the number of people providing it.(3) Fortunately, virtual care has several unique features that empower provider organizations to optimize their workforces.

If you want to efficiently utilize a provider workforce, you need to ensure that all providers are consistently operating at the top of their licenses (i.e. empower providers to spend the vast majority of their time delivering the highest level of care for which they are trained). Correctly using providers at all licensure levels can be tremendously powerful, as evidenced by a recent Advisory Board study which indicated that using non-physician clinicians more effectively in primary care could have the same impact as immediately adding 44,000 new primary care physicians to the US healthcare system.(3) Virtual care workflows are innately digital and can drive timely, evidence-based, analytically informed engagement with the appropriate providers for all patients, thereby maximizing the likelihood that providers can operate at the top of their licenses and patients can receive the appropriate care. Many virtual care solutions can utilize patient data analysis, e-scheduling, e-triage, artificial intelligence, and chatbots to direct consumers to the most appropriate caregivers for their unique situations more effectively than a human triage team ever could. This augmented triage capability can increase supplies of physicians, nurses, and all other providers by ensuring that the “right” providers are seeing the “right” patients at all times. Whether it is a question of specialty, skill level, or licensure, virtual care workflows can rapidly collect and analyze data to intelligently match patients and providers for optimized experiences and outcomes.

Geographic Flexibility
Healthcare providers in today’s world are exhausted and busy – perhaps now more than ever as they sit on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet some populations face meaningfully greater strains than others. Rural consumers, the un- or underinsured, and those with very unique needs consistently find it challenging to access the care they require. To ensure that patients see the most appropriate providers, patients must be able to access providers who reside in any location. Virtual care allows providers from different parts of the country to virtually connect with residents in locations where their skills may be in short supply or where the local team simply needs “reinforcements.” It allows providers to do the work they want to do for all of the patients who need it – not just those in their own ZIP codes.

Keep the Data, Cut the Noise
Finally, virtual care’s digital integration can improve healthcare provider productivity by retaining, organizing, and presenting meaningful data, while cutting out extraneous details and limiting busy work. By interacting with a patient through a virtual care platform and a screen, providers can quickly access important details about medical history, behavioral health challenges, social determinants of health, and imaging or lab results. Tools that interpret human facial expressions can be incorporated to help physicians notice distress or confusion in patients’ faces. By aggregating this information and building it into an easy-to-understand workflow that is naturally part of a provider-patient virtual care experience, providers can consistently have the information they need at their fingertips to care for patients efficiently, effectively, and with compassion. Moreover, these digital workflows make sure providers are spared the things they don’t need, such as charting and administrative work. Advisory Board recently estimated that targeted use of AI tools (e.g. solutions that create charts for a doctor to sign rather than forcing the physician to do their own charting) can increase primary care patient panel sizes by about 30%. (3) Using virtual care tools to help providers access the tools they need while minimizing “time drains” can help ensure that everyone’s time is used more effectively.

Author Bio
Jenny Poth is a proprietary investments associate at Ziegler with a background in the firm’s healthcare corporate finance practice. Ziegler is a privately held investment bank, capital markets, wealth management, and alternative investments firm specializing in the healthcare, senior living, education, and religion sectors, as well as general municipal and structured finance.

Earlier this year, Ziegler published its new white paper, “Deconstructing the Telehealth Industry: Part III.” To obtain a copy of the white paper, please visit Ziegler Managing Director Grant Chamberlain will also be participating in a live panel session entitled, “Investing in Digital Healthcare Startups” at 3:25pm CT on June 24.

This document may contain forward-looking statements, which may or may not come to fruition depending on certain circumstances. Information contained or referenced in this document is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a solicitation of any security or services. B.C. Ziegler and Company | Member SIPC & FINRA