News & Analysis

Healthcare’s New Normal: Understanding the Importance and Impact of Virtual Care in a Post-COVID-19 World (Part 2)

Headshot of Brian Ackerman, partner at Ascendient

Brian Ackerman

A physician with a stethoscope around his neck taps on a laptop computer with one hand and a tablet device with the other hand. A variety of medical terms overlay the entire photo.

Long considered a key component of a future healthcare delivery system, virtual care adoption has accelerated across the country as healthcare systems find new, safer ways to continue providing services to their patients during the COVID-19 outbreak. Before the pandemic, the move to virtual care saw great success in some markets yet floundered in others. Now, seemingly overnight, many of the barriers that had prevented virtual care progress have been, at least temporarily, overcome.

As we move into a “new normal,” hospital and health system leaders should understand how recent virtual care adoption can and should impact their delivery system in the years ahead.  

As discussed in Part 1, offering virtual care alternatives for your patients, staff and provider community are more important today than ever before. At the same time, before rushing into (or continuing) virtual care, Part 2 offers three strategic considerations to assist with evaluating your organization’s unique circumstances to determine which alternatives are most appropriate and sustainable in the long-term.

Uncovering the Best Virtual Care Opportunities for Your Delivery System

Organizations have had to respond quickly to the pandemic. While increasing the adoption of virtual care, that expedited response also may have resulted in some virtual care solutions that aren’t optimized to meet your organization’s needs. When strategizing about how to make recent virtual care progress permanent and maximize the benefits virtual care offers — to the extent enabled by existing and anticipated regulations — there are three key factors to consider.

1. Assess Capital Capacity. When hospital and health system leaders are evaluating how to progress further with virtual care, it’s important to remember that virtual care can include several different stepping-stones, such as e-visits, telehealth, virtual visits, and phone visits.

It’s a common misconception that virtual care requires a significant up-front investment. Organizations can dive in by adopting expensive, advanced systems, but there are also more modest, intermediate virtual care steps that organizations can take as they work up the technology curve. Then, as additional capital becomes available and as patients become accustomed to the changes, organizations can continue to progress at their own pace.

2. Know Your Market. The demographics that an organization serves should critically shape which virtual care services are offered and how they’re offered. Rural populations will have different needs than urban ones, and an aging population will have different technological comfort levels compared to a younger one. For example, an aging population likely will have a harder time with an e-visit, perhaps lacking the necessary technology, technological confidence, or even willingness to try something new.

Regardless, it’s easy to incorporate virtual care in ways that meet various demographics’ needs. For example, older patients may be more receptive to a phone consultation, which still offers both the patient and the organization the benefits of virtual care.

3. Understand Your Provider Need. As you consider virtual care options for your organization, it is important to understand the current and future need for providers within your community. The “graying” of medical staff across the country is making succession planning a critical priority for many. Meanwhile, the time needed to find and recruit providers continues to increase. Couple that with “ramp-up” times associated with new providers entering a community, and that multi-year runway means most organizations are already significantly behind the recruitment curve.

Virtual care, combined with the expanded use of advanced practice providers and care teams, provides a unique opportunity to bridge some of those gaps during the coming years. It can also serve as a more permanent replacement solution for many provider specialties where demand outpaces supply, or for which your organization may not be able to afford the provider capacity demanded by traditional, in-person practices.


As we move into a “new normal,” hospitals and health systems must continue to leverage virtual care’s recent progress as they design their delivery systems for the years ahead. While organizations will approach virtual care differently, each should, at the bare minimum, continue with the recent virtual care processes and procedures put in place.

Despite how different the future may look, hospitals and healthcare organizations will continue to face some of the problems that plagued them in the past. Incorporating virtual care as part of your broader strategy for rethinking care delivery will help prepare your organization for the shift to value-based care, in which virtual care will have a monumental impact, and position it for success.

Ascendient can help you strategically and tactically understand how your organization should be evaluating virtual care opportunities.  In addition, we can quantify the impact that virtual care can have on your community’s overall healthcare provider needs and how this should impact your manpower strategy and recruitment plan. Let us show you how virtual care can help you bridge the gap between healthcare as it is furnished today and in a transformed delivery system.