Josh Weiner

Set-up virtual care for long-term success

September 25, 2020
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.

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:

Scheduling: All staff knowing what the clear clinical guidelines are to determine which appointments can be done via telemedicine and which need to be completed in person. Create a script for staff so they know what information needs to be collected or shared for successful telehealth visits (i.e., do they have a device and internet to participate in telehealth, how you will get them the link and instructions, etc.).
Reminders and pre-visit instructions: Automated reminders are more important than ever to ensure patients know what type of appointment they have scheduled—in-person versus telehealth. The same-day reminder should provide instructions and links for telehealth. If a visit is in-person, the reminder should contain pre-screening information (i.e., call first if you have COVID-19 symptoms). If you are using a “park & text” waiting room, that should be included in your messaging as well.
Patient intake: Supporting a combination of virtual and in-person visits requires tools that support a digital workflow. Intake forms should be sent via text or email to be completed ahead of time electronically. Digital forms not only allow patients being seen virtually to complete their forms, but it also protects patients with in-person visits by eliminating the need to touch clipboards or devices in the office.
Telemedicine: Obviously, to conduct telemedicine visits you need the technology to do so. There are many telemedicine options, but the best options will include telehealth visits through real-time audio and video (synchronous). You want it to be a HIPAA-compliant, secure, high-resolution tool that is easy to use for both providers and patients. Look for a solution that doesn’t require added downloads or logins. It’s best if patients can just click a link and be in the digital waiting room. Another important option now is the text-based check-in. A two-way text tool allows providers to do a quick 5-10 minute text exchange to determine if the patient needs to come in or do a full telehealth visit.
Digital bill pay: Allowing patients to pay electronically is also an important piece of supporting both visit types and removing risk for in-person visits. A mobile bill pay solution makes it easy for patients to pay their copay ahead of a telehealth visit as well as post-visit balances. Collection rates could be 25 percent higher when you use the digital methods patients prefer.

Creating a streamlined workflow that can support any type of visit and making sure that the telehealth visit fits right into that workflow makes it easy for everyone to move seamlessly between in-person care and virtual care. That will be the healthcare of the future—care that is virtually the same whether it is received at home or at a healthcare facility.

About the author: Josh Weiner is the CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, Josh served on the Solutionreach board of directors for three years. Prior to Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife, daughter, and golden retriever Willow (who often makes cameos at the Solutionreach office). Josh and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah's mountains and deserts. Connect with him on LinkedIn @joshfweiner.