Transforming Virtual Care: What We’ve Learned and What’s Ahead
Healthcare’s quick pivot to virtual care proves just how durable the “continuum of care” model is.
During our latest panel, I had the opportunity to speak with healthcare leaders on the transformation of virtual care. Our conversation included a range of topic areas such as the patient and employee experience, the latest tech and the true meaning of patient centricity. I’m grateful to the panelists – Bree Bush of GE Healthcare, Shruti Singal of First Choice Health, Jamey Edwards of Cloudbreak and Suzanne Foster of Cardinal – for sharing their insights and experiences.
If you missed the session, you can check it out here. Also, be sure to review our latest virtual care report. In the meantime, here are a few of the takeaways from the Transforming Virtual Care panel.
1. Virtual care transformed into, simply, care
Once again, we saw that the most powerful parts of digital transformation this past year are the non-digital elements. Mindset shifts, committed leadership and an obsession with delivering what patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs) need is far more important than the latest tech.
As the perceived barriers to virtual care fell away, care continuums were no longer viewed as strictly linear, but in more dimensional and human terms. Large health systems eased their focus on keeping as much care as possible in the hospital and saw immediate benefits. The focus on population health was certainly good for their brands. By promoting continuous care, virtual care clearly helped with fragmented patient experiences, ultimately leading to better care.
Shruti of First Choice Health noted that virtual care helps providers “know more about what is happening before we see patients, what is happening afterward, what patients need and who should be involved.” That triage ensures that the “right patient gets the right treatment, either virtually or in-person.”
Panelists are hopeful that regulators and payers will recognize that many routine interactions (e.g., prescription renewals) don’t require in-person visits. “So many patients used to ask, ‘Can’t I do this digitally?’” noted Suzanne of Cardinal. “We now know the answer is usually yes.”
Maybe the biggest lesson was that virtual care should simply be viewed as care. Jamey of Cloudbreak summed it up nicely: “When doctors first started using stethoscopes, it wasn’t called ‘stethomedicine.’” This is the healthcare equivalent of mobile phones becoming just phones and cable television becoming television or of digital marketing being marketing.
2. Healthcare innovated rapidly to become truly patient-centric
The healthcare industry learned a lot about itself in the last year. That the unthinkable happens. That it can move fast and make big changes, even during a time of crisis. A skeptic might point out many large organizations stopped talking about being patient-centric and started living that purpose on a day-to-day basis.
Panelists saw many impressive efforts focused on the patient and HCP experience. GE Healthcare developed analytics solutions to orchestrate care across the many different silos of large hospitals, using EMR data to provide “simple, smart, fast” recommendations to HCPs.
“Virtual care means local healthcare has won. People want to be part of a local healthcare continuum that is enabled with digital health tools.”
Bree was proud of her team’s urgent work to develop, in just 30 days, a COVID analytics command center for hospital systems and government agencies around the country to track hotspots. “We knew what happened in Italy was going to happen in North America,” she said.
Suzanne was impressed by the massive effort and overtime logged by frontline workers and logistics teams to work around severe supply chain disruptions. “We did what we had to do to get supplies where they needed to be,” she said, “COVID has taught the industry a lot about how to prepare for the next situation.”
“Telehealth and text-based messaging were available before COVID, but we changed our behavior to make these things readily available and make them free,” said Shruti. “It really came down to how we could help people and that’s where I’m proud of our organization.”
3. Virtual care will go from point solution to the new continuum
Barriers remain for the further expansion of virtual care – the digital divide and patient access to tech chief among them. Cost pressures are another perpetual concern.
Care paths and care coordination will have to look very different now that the patient experience is no longer site-driven. Virtual care is essential to providing a continuum of care that has the flexibility to meet patients where they are and engage them in the ways they prefer. HCPs will benefit, too, since they can continue to focus on patient relationships.
Panelists are bullish about the expansion of virtual care and are energized about making that expansion work for all stakeholders. Bree thinks that, because “the patient experience is not linear, more tools are needed to coordinate care outside the bounds of the EMR.”
Shruti added, “Pre-COVID, we tried to take what we already had and make it virtual. The answer in 2020 was making it the best it can be. It’s a silver lining as we move forward.”
Jamey added, “Virtual care means local healthcare has won. People want to be part of a local healthcare continuum that is enabled with digital health tools.”
Panelists agree that digital health platforms must promote equity. That means ensuring bias is eliminated from algorithms and AI-based tools. It also means addressing barriers to care, such as behavioral health patients, who may lack privacy for check-in calls. The practice of behavioral and mental health seems particularly ripe for transformation, thanks to telehealth.
The benefits of virtual care have now become so obvious that it’s hard to believe that it took a pandemic to drive adoption at scale. It seems that a crisis is sometimes necessary to do what’s right.