• Ariel Chen

Make Telehealth Part of Everyday Health Care Post Pandemic

It has become almost cliché by now to note how COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in healthcare. I noticed the returning of in-person outpatient visits and reimbursement pull back from some insurers. It seems that the pendulum has swung back in recent months. However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has continued to make additions to telehealth services, aiming at expanding to more areas to meet the needs in this difficult time. The administrator of The Centers for CMS stated, that “the genie is out of the bottle on this one” and there’s no going back on telehealth.

Well before the pandemic moved most of the healthcare online, many providers were already experiencing excess screen time and corresponding information overload leading to digital fatigue and stress. In surveys fielded over the past few years, a third or more of physicians regularly report symptoms of burnout, while more than half say those symptoms have increased since the onset of the current public health crisis. Although provider comfort and ease with telehealth have increased over the pandemic, many remain wary of virtual care and the potential for adding to their already weighty technological and administrative burdens. Therefore, we must tread carefully to avoid any challenges along the way, ensuring providers are not only on-board with digital transformation but also see their experience of care enhanced in the process. Doing so involves several key considerations and requirements.

1. Change Leadership Management

Telehealth adoption will require a comparable level of engagement and will be more likely to succeed if it is “pulled” into organizations and workflows by providers rather than “pushed” on them by leadership.

Providers also need ongoing support and digital immersion training not only to seamlessly integrate new tools and modalities into their practice but to recognize and mitigate digital fatigue and burnout in the process.

2. Greater Collaboration across Geographies

Platforms should open up the potential for greater collaboration with specialists across geographies. For example, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s telemedicine platform allows their providers in rural regional hospitals to do virtual consults with specialists such as neurologists available only at the main medical center without having to transfer critically injured patients. This is not only better for patients but helps relieve stress on the referring provider by giving them a sense of control and connection to a broader team.

3. Human-Centered Platform

As the flow of data from virtual visits, remote monitoring devices, and wearables increases, we must be sure providers don’t shoulder the cognitive burden of swiveling among even more screens and data feeds to manage patient care. For example, data must be brought together on a unifying platform, where providers and staff have a “single pane” view of the patient's journey.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and voice technologies play crucial roles in reducing documentation burden by quickly filtering and surfacing the most useful and relevant data for understanding the patient story and delivering the right care.

4. Team-Based Care to Value-Based Care

Care coordination is as important to the provider experience as it is to care quality and outcomes. Virtual care platforms tend to be purpose-built for team-based care, reducing the burden on the provider by making it easier to distribute and coordinate care among nurses, care managers, and other clinical staff.

5. Chronic Disease Digital Management

While most of the recent growth in telehealth has been around virtual visits, its potential lies in connecting longitudinal data across the entire consumer journey — from wearables and remote monitoring devices and self-care apps to the EHR as the record of care. When a provider does need to see their patient, virtually or in-person, they now have access to a wealth of longitudinal information, from biometric data to blood pressure readings and diet regime, giving them a much richer picture of what happened since the last visit to inform and personalize ongoing care.

The COVID-19 Pandemic accelerated the need for change and proved the benefits of digital transformation: greater access and convenience, and more control and empowerment through care. Providers need to learn lessons from the past, be open-minded to change, and work together to build a better healthcare ecosystem.