More than 1 billion visits to telehealth will be made by the end of 2020, according to Forrester research published earlier this year. That’s a big change since the start of the year: Before COVID-19, only 24 percent of healthcare organizations had virtual care programs.
This maritime change has prompted healthcare leaders to evaluate their digital infrastructures to ensure they continue to serve patients across a variety of platforms and settings.
The early days of the pandemic saw many systems scrambling to expand remote health services, even if solutions weren’t perfect. Now, service providers are looking to refine their efforts.
“There have been many conversations about the ‘digital front door’ of healthcare systems, but there is no single front door,” said Sarah Faizi, director of digital strategy and business development for Renton, Providence, based in Washington, the first in the United States to treat a patient with COVID-19.
“There are many potential entry points and access is essential.”
Presented as part of a webinar hosted by mHealthIntelligence, Vaezy and other healthcare leaders spoke about their virtual care centers with the increase in COVID-19 cases and provided advice for the systems building their virtual platforms in 2021.
Adopt a Digital-First Approach to Attract and Retain Patients
Before COVID-19, less than 1% of Providence patients used virtual visiting platforms; However, Fayez said this number increased to more than 60 percent during the first wave of COVID-19. Almost 80 percent of that group had never tried telehealth in any way.
That is why service providers should strive to create a positive first impression, even as plans and infrastructure for telehealth services develop in real time. Offering a safe and seamless experience is fundamental to building patient confidence and maintaining demand for virtual care.
This includes a pre-appointment approach, simple contact tips, and a robust online platform to guide the steps leading to and after a telehealth visit.
“Looking at the next stage, how can we take a digital approach to get people to the right place?” Faizi said. Providing access to new and commercially insured patients will be essential to our business model. Our goal is to take the fragmented ecosystem, understand it, and make it easier for patients and service providers. ”
Train Providers to Deliver Optimal Virtual Care Experiences
It is important for clinicians to understand how to facilitate virtual patient care in a way that feels as close to an in-person visit as possible. Doing so means training employees and making sure service providers are equipped with the right hardware, communication, and cybersecurity training when working from home.
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Wendy Horn, vice president of business development for the Indiana-based Community Health Network, which operates nine hospitals across the state, told the webinar audience that her staff is preparing for the disruption and hiring to be resilient.
“To be fit in the future, we have to be the navigators, compilers and coordinators of these new services,” Horn said. “We have worked with providers and assisted them because their role shifts to skills so that we can retain and develop virtual care. This will give our patients choices about when and where they want to be seen.”