The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed the ways we access healthcare. To adapt, traditional healthcare companies have been forced to go digital virtually overnight.
While this rapid shift to digital has not come without challenges, it’s been inspiring to see how quickly the medical community has been able to adapt. For perspective, Stanford Children’s Health had an all-time daily high of 35 telehealth visits prior to COVID-19, but their new high is 500 visits. Cleveland Clinic logged more than 60,000 telemedicine visits in March. Their previous monthly average was 3,400.
The pandemic may have caught us off guard, with many organizations and institutions unprepared to transition to a digital model. But now that it’s here, this brave new world of healthcare demands that we learn and improve our services on the fly.
As an industry, now’s the time to ask some important questions and collect insights that will help us develop a long-term digital strategy for the future.
Telehealth and virtual care will only continue to grow, and deregulation of telemedicine services has already increased access for patients in remote locations who need it.
But what about for urban and suburban populations? While the infrastructure exists for virtual care across a number of platforms and channels, it’s still challenging to shift the consumer mindset and get them to change their behavior from in-person visits to virtual visits. The pandemic has taught us that many consumers still don’t understand how to use virtual channels to get the care they need. Many patients with chronic conditions have gone untreated during this time simply because they want to avoid going to the doctor.
Health systems must devise new ways to reach these patients through virtual channels. And what better way than to talk to them directly? Through a variety of research techniques, we can engage different groups of consumers to better understand their attitudes and use cases around virtual care, then develop strategies to overcome barriers.
For instance, are there knowledge gaps that exist about what types of care are available through virtual channels? Are patients generally aware of their virtual care options, and how to access them? Only by listening and engaging with consumers directly can we answer these questions and develop solutions to address them.
Health and life sciences companies, particularly pharmaceutical and medical device companies, need this kind of patient information, too. Although they are not directly facilitating virtual interactions between providers and patients, it’s crucial for them to understand their potential role in educating and encouraging patients to seek care from virtual channels. After all, patients can’t opt for treatment without accessing the medical system at large.
There are certain types of medical needs that are simply impossible to treat virtually. After all, a doctor can’t replace your knee through a phone or computer screen. But there’s a great deal of care and treatment that can be done successfully through telemedicine.
We need to figure out how to optimize the overall experience within virtual channels, so that patients are satisfied with their experience and feel comfortable returning in the future. With thousands of patients opting for virtual care during the pandemic, health systems should engage them and re-create the virtual patient journey, identifying opportunities to improve the entire digital care experience, not just the appointment or visit itself.
Was it easy to schedule an appointment? Do patients feel it’s convenient and easy to get follow-up questions answered post-visit? How do patient needs change or shift when receiving treatment in a virtual environment?
And for pharmaceutical companies, what new strategies will help ensure that patients continue to fill their prescriptions and adhere to treatment plans without visiting their doctors in person?
These are the kinds of questions we must ask to quickly evolve the patient experience.
While the patient experience is obviously important, doctors and their staffs also face a new set of challenges when it comes to treating their patients virtually. That’s why the healthcare industry must find innovative ways to support clinicians as they learn to navigate this new model.
A seamless integration of virtual care won’t happen without a steep learning curve. Practices need to create new procedures, notify patients about important changes, develop solutions that still require in-person interaction to receive treatment, train providers on how to use new tools, review updated payer policies, establish new billing systems, and more.
Health and life sciences organizations bear significant responsibility in helping clinicians adapt. Pharma companies should set up small research studies to get a pulse on the struggles doctors are facing within the virtual environment, and how patient needs vary by disease type and patient population. That way, doctors and pharma companies can co-develop digital strategies that align with the new tele-enabled medical reality.
Our healthcare model will eventually return to some sense of normalcy, but digital will surely have more prominent role in our post-COVID world. Healthcare companies that base their strategy off smart, data-driven insights will set themselves up for long term success and avoid the trap of investing in solutions that only provide a short-term fix.