Michael Morgan

Maximizing virtual care in 2021: How to innovate and advance your practice in a consumer-driven environment

May 21, 2021
By Michael Morgan

The consumerism of healthcare has been on the rise for years, but the pandemic rapidly accelerated this trend. In 2020, many practices began their virtual care journey by adopting telehealth to provide a safe alternative to in-person visits. Patients have become accustomed to the convenience that virtual care offers and are now increasingly demanding these solutions. In fact, according to recent data from NRC Health, when it comes to choosing a healthcare provider, 52% of survey respondents listed convenience as their second-most important driver (behind insurance coverage).

Growth in the telehealth market is projected to continue, with providers expecting to increase the percentage of visits offered via telehealth in 2021 by 10-25%. However, in order to succeed in this new age of healthcare consumerism, practices should consider implementing a full virtual care strategy, which includes much more than video chat. A virtual care strategy is custom-built to set a practice up for long-term success, considers the entire spectrum of patient care both in and outside the four walls of the practice, and creates the ideal experience for both patients and staff.

The road ahead: Implementing a full virtual care strategy
According to a recent survey from Updox of more than 1,000 healthcare providers, 75% say it’s important to have a full virtual care strategy moving forward, however, only 28% have actually implemented one. Survey results also showed that running a profitable practice is the number one priority for healthcare providers in 2021, followed closely behind increasing patient satisfaction and improving patient outcomes. Implementing a full virtual care strategy is critical to achieving these goals.

While providers are aware of the advantages digital tools bring, when it comes to implementing a full virtual care strategy, many continue to face barriers to adoption and implementation, or simply don’t know where to begin.

Prior to the pandemic, the number one barrier providers faced when adopting new digital tools was patient comfort level with tech. The pandemic changed this drastically. As patient and provider needs shifted throughout the pandemic, patients’ comfort level with technology increased and the need for providers' to meet this demand skyrocketed. Survey findings showed that initial purchase and implementation (32%), insurance reimbursement (30%) and strain on physicians and other staff (15%), are the biggest challenges providers face when it comes to product implementation and adoption now and looking forward.

As an industry, we must collectively continue to address reimbursement of new technologies and care models. Implementing an effective virtual care strategy that improves patient satisfaction and achieves practice goals, however, can be simple and needn’t require extra burden on physicians or staff.

Directions: A roadmap to virtual care implementation
When it comes to building a virtual care strategy, the first step is to identify your practice’s needs, set tangible goals for the practice and then build on that strategy piece by piece. This process is meant to be customized to a practices’ specific goals. No one practice’s journey is the same. However, after identifying your practice’s goals, there are a few steps that can ensure success along the way:

1. Optimize telehealth. As one of the most in-demand virtual care tools, telehealth can be utilized at an even higher rate in 2021 and beyond to provide optimal care and lower practice costs.
2. Promote health services. Practices can use broadcast patient messaging to distribute practice updates, such as new offerings like telehealth, the latest info on COVID-19 vaccines, or additional services. This solution helps practices easily reach and connect with its patient base, without overwhelming staff time, via personalized communications that assist in increasing patient engagement and generating practice revenue.
3. Keep practice schedules full. After receiving a broadcast message, patients can easily request and sign up for an in-office or telehealth visit. Using a HIPAA-compliant secure text solution allows staff to quickly confirm patient visit details (i.e, date, time and other needed info), increasing staff productivity.
4. Leverage a contactless check-in. By using solutions like electronic forms, practices can decrease human touchpoints and eliminate errors associated with manual entry. Additionally, a virtual waiting room can eliminate unsanitary, in-person waiting areas and highly trafficked touchpoints.
5. Implement a paperless practice. Utilizing paperless solutions like electronic faxing streamlines document sharing and reduces costs, as well as improves a practice’s overall workflow and efficiency. Creating a fax-free office is one major step to building a truly paperless practice and full virtual care strategy.

In a virtual care journey, there is no final destination. As provider and patient needs evolve, so, too, must your practice. While each practice's strategy may vary, by adding a variety of tools to your virtual care suite step by step - which tie seamlessly together - a practice can experience higher patient engagement and satisfaction, better patient response rates, a reduction in appointment no-shows, and ultimately greater long-term success and profitability.

About the author: Michael Morgan is the president of Updox. With a successful track record in helping organizations use technology to transform the way healthcare is delivered, Mike has more than 25 years of healthcare leadership within software, behavioral health and HIT organizations. Updox was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for the past six consecutive years.