In early 2020, digital strategy initiatives around telehealth, data analytics, and digital engagement were underway for many healthcare organizations, albeit a ‘nice addition to having it’ in some cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of these efforts across the industry, making them critically needed for healthcare organizations.
Hospitals and health systems in the hardest hit areas are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, imposing significant restrictions on space, supplies and personnel.
Soon after, service providers and payers faced an increase in call center traffic, while their web sites were overwhelmed with people looking for information about service changes, testing resources, health plan coverage, and the location of caregivers within the network.
These and other digital solutions not only facilitate rapid response, but also lay the foundation for long-term changes in care delivery.
Here are three solutions that healthcare systems should consider on their digital transformation journeys:
Widespread Telehealth Adoption Brings Challenges and Opportunity
The idea of seeing a doctor on the phone or video conference used to be rare. In March, federal officials temporarily waived potential HIPAA violations in order to “use goodwill for telehealth services” and extend coverage to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
Health systems have responded by rapidly expanding telehealth efforts. This of course included adjustments to the infrastructure, but it also required training providers and patients to successfully navigate this new virtual terrain, with more than a billion telehealth visits expected to take place by the end of the year, according to Forrester.
Meanwhile, the emergence of “digital gateway” platforms has improved usability and accessibility. “The easier we make this entry point, the more patients we use it,” Alison Norfleet, global healthcare leader for industrial solutions at Cisco, told HealthTech in November.
However, the legal future of telehealth services faces many unknowns. Payers will need to evaluate long-term payment models and service providers must determine how and where to expand telehealth efforts. A virtual visit may work with a young person who is less severely affected, but it may not be suitable for an elderly patient who needs laboratory work and vital signs.
Automation Drives Streamlining of Health IT Services
Humans were once asked to help patients cope with their symptoms, or to tackle administrative issues like scheduling or billing.
The slight increase in chatbots and virtual assistants has allowed organizations to redirect employee resources to other tasks while providing patients with the information they need. Updated an existing symptom detection bot that California-based Sutter Health is using to interpret COVID-19 queries; Several other regimes have followed suit, with similar efforts.