By Josh Weiner
In a recent focus group of CIOs from hospitals and health systems, there was one consistent theme—they all put widely available telehealth in place in a matter of days or weeks.
Several said they implemented telehealth faster than any other technology effort. Many skipped the usual planning, goal setting, testing, and training. They needed to get something in place as quickly as possible to serve patients during COVID-19.
Some of these organizations migrated almost entirely to telehealth. Community Health Center, Inc., one of Connecticut’s largest healthcare providers, moved from 100 percent in-person to 96 percent virtual in a few short weeks. However, moving this fast creates its own challenges. Two of the biggest are not having the time to choose the best tools or set up the best workflow.
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Now that healthcare is moving out of crisis mode, it’s time to look at how to maintain effective virtual care for the long term, and that means addressing the entire virtual care experience not just flipping the clinical setting to telehealth. Many experts predict that COVID will affect the U.S. well into 2021 or even early 2022. Healthcare revenue is down an average of 36 percent, and patients are delaying needed care. A recent MGMA study found that 87 percent of patients say safety is the reason they are reluctant to visit the doctor.
Healthcare organizations will need to do two critical things to get patients to come in for the care they need—communicate better and offer a seamless virtual care experience.
Patient communication is one of the most important ways to allay patient fears. Regular, informative text and email messages about how to access care, safety protocols, and options like virtual care will help. Posting similar information online will also help. When reaching out to patients to reschedule missed appointments or recall, let them know safety is the top priority and what is being done to ensure that. These communications will need to be consistent and ongoing.
Clearly offering virtual care options is a key piece of keeping patients and staff safe. Sixty percent of patients expect to continue with a combination of telehealth and in-person care, and two out of three are very comfortable with that. Most consumers prioritize access to treatment over a face-to-face visit and believe that telemedicine visits can resolve their concerns.
Patient acceptance isn’t the problem when it comes to virtual care. The problem is creating a seamless patient experience for virtual care that works for everyone. To do that requires: