The healthcare industry, though never ceasing to operate, was severely disrupted and forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing measures enacted and shutdowns occurring across the country, healthcare leaders were forced to quickly cobble together solutions that enabled patients to still receive the care they needed. For most organizations, the result was the mass adoption of telehealth technology.
Thankfully, one of the positive changes that took place because of 2020’s tumultuous year was getting the healthcare industry to face and overcome its biggest cultural resistors to telehealth. Although many organizations had dabbled in the use of telehealth, actual utilization was fairly dismal. Change management can sometimes be a struggle for healthcare organizations, especially the larger entities with hundreds of providers, multiple locations and a slew of third party organizations like insurance companies attached to it. Such a radical change hasn’t been seen since the wave of electronic health record (EHR) system adoption (that, even then, took the better part of two decades to occur) and attempting to add another shift in care delivery may have left many providers and administrators wondering about costs.
Fear of revenue loss was another major contributor to resistance to telehealth platform adoption. Healthcare organizations, insurance companies and every group in between needed to think through the payment and coding processes for their revenue cycles in order to ensure a new telehealth platform made business sense. With the sudden regulation and reimbursement relief provided under the Public Health Emergency waivers, healthcare professionals could no longer make financial or legal excuses for not deploying telehealth solutions.
The pandemic forced an entire industry challenge of long-standing cultural norms within the healthcare industry. Hospitals had to accept and adjust to the changes that ensued after the pandemic swept the globe. Mental and behavioral health practices now had a wide open opportunity to embrace telehealth in ways their patients may not have before. Primary care and physical therapy offices morphed into a sort of triage for hospitals and emergency departments thanks to connective communication telehealth offered, allowing less emergent health concerns to stay away from COVID filled emergency and inpatient departments.
But it’s more than just the execution of healthcare that has changed. On a larger, macro level, there are several overarching but deep seated cultural changes that we’re seeing starting to take shape, as well.
The move from physician to patient centric
Value-based care models initiated this shift in perspective long before the pandemic but, like most things, the pandemic enforced its rapid motion to fruition. Patients are now more than ever adopting a consumer-like approach to their healthcare by shopping around for plans, selecting their providers and now choosing the venue to receive care. With this new approach, the culture that has historically centered around the physician is now becoming more patient-centric in nature. With telehealth now being a household term, studies have shown up to 36% of patients would change providers to have the option of virtual visits. Value-based reimbursement, with the emphasis on quality outcomes, is fundamentally shifting the incentives to manage health rather than simply treat sickness. This creates real value in directing patients to the right level of care, including in their home.
The move to a continuous care model
Telehealth has presented a unique opportunity for the patient/provider to engage outside of a traditional in person “encounter.” Through online scheduling, on-demand visits, secure messaging, clinical and consumer grade devices, there is now the opportunity for a continuous flow between the patient and their care team. This model allows for clinical intervention when it makes sense rather than when there is a next available appointment. Traditional healthcare is based on pre-set time slots for care. Shifting away from that rigid structures provides the opportunity to maximize the use of often limited clinical resources while improving patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes.
The move from in-person to virtual
Together with the above changes, telehealth is shifting the default expectation of in-person healthcare delivery to virtual delivery. Through telehealth platforms, data gathering through devices or RPM tools, providers are able to get more insight into their patients than they could during a single in person visit once or twice a year. This holistic view of on-going, real-time patient activity provides a broader context for the clinician, making them better equipped to diagnose and develop robust treatment plans. With such powerful tools and insights available through telehealth, there is no question that the telehealth application is here to stay, even as we return to pre-pandemic life. Healthcare organizations that recognize this permanence and develop long-term strategies around it will be the ones to flourish in the future days of healthcare delivery.
The pandemic no doubt turned the healthcare industry upside down. With the biggest resistors to change like telehealth adoption, change management, revenue concerns and historical cultural norms now being addressed, telehealth technology is quickly showing its cataclysmic impact through the healthcare delivery spectrum including the move from physician to patient-centricity, the move from episodic to continuous care and the move from in-person to virtual expectations for care. Finally, the one thing healthcare organizations can depend on is that they need to develop a long term telehealth technology and operational strategy to stay viable in a post-pandemic world.
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