Healthcare’s New Normal: Understanding the Importance and Impact of Virtual Care in a Post-COVID-19 World (Part 1)

Medical Staff Planning,Strategic Planning,Transformation,Blog

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.  Part 1 discusses why virtual care matters now.  Part 2 will follow with three strategic considerations for virtual care.

Why a Virtual Care Transformation Delivery System Matters, Now

With the COVID-19 outbreak, critical barriers such as patient willingness to use virtual care, physician acceptance, and certain regulatory and payment limitations have been overcome out of the need to provide and receive healthcare from a distance.

Now, as restrictions across the country start to ease, this current push toward virtual care might begin to slow, and there is concern that our industry will return to many of the inefficient processes and procedures utilized before the pandemic. While the rate of virtual care’s continued adoption in the near future is unknown, the progress made so far shouldn’t be forfeited. Virtual care is a critical component of the future delivery system, and these are essential steps in the right direction. Although hospital and health system leaders face pressing demands from today’s complicated world, it is still imperative that leaders now begin to strategize how to keep the momentum of virtual care and its benefits going. Here are five reasons why.

1   Patients Have New Expectations

Previously, offering virtual care services was often viewed as a perk that hospitals and healthcare systems could offer their technologically inclined patients while allowing their less-savvy patients to continue using traditional methods. However, COVID-19 has forced an increased digital acceptance among patients and, with more institutions offering it, virtual care is now less of a competitive differentiator. Patient expectations are already beginning to include virtual care’s improved ease of access and the ability to interact with providers easily and regularly. In fact, offering virtual care alternatives is now almost mandatory as many organizations experience significantly improved patient satisfaction scores associated with many virtual care alternatives.

2   Operating Costs Need to be Reduced

Post-COVID-19, hospitals’ and health systems’ leadership must continue to find ways to reduce operating expenses in light of continued reimbursement pressures. Thankfully, virtual care, and the progress already made, can play a critical role in accomplishing that. Virtual care does not only relate to the use of virtual encounters or e-visits. Even in more traditional office-based settings, the use of kiosks for appointment check-ins or drive-up notifications allows organizations to ramp up their patients’ introduction to using technology as part of the healthcare experience while reducing the number of support FTEs required for patient access functions.

3   Social Distancing Needs Will Remain

Although pandemic-driven social distancing requirements will diminish, the need to provide thoughtful alternatives to limit the spread of illness through unnecessary person-to-person contact in the healthcare setting will remain. Virtual care alternatives, such as e-visits, telehealth, virtual visits, remote monitoring, and phone visits provide the most immediate solutions for delivering care despite ongoing social distancing requirements. Allowing sick persons to congregate in waiting rooms—or large groups of people to collect in any healthcare setting—likely will become a thing of the past in a post-COVID world.

4   Operational Efficiency Must Increase

With the shortage of physicians across the country, there are simply not enough physicians to serve the growing needs of the population under current care delivery methods. Hospitals and healthcare systems need to find opportunities to use physicians’ time more efficiently. An important part of accomplishing that will involve enabling practitioners to operate at “top of license.” This allows physicians and other providers to practice to the full extent of their education and training, instead of spending time on tasks that can be effectively performed by someone else. Virtual care capabilities also allow providers to remain more connected with their patients. This improves care coordination and assists with the implementation of team-based care initiatives that help ensure that patients are seen at the right time, at the right location (including in their home), and by the right provider.  Such care coordination and leverage will become increasingly important as the transition to value-based care progresses.

5   Patient Access Must Improve

Many hospitals and healthcare systems remain centralized on their campuses, limiting their reach into communities. Satellite and community-based facilities are capital-intensive. In addition, the operational challenges of such facilities, particularly in less densely-populated areas, are significant and often not financially supportable, given limited scale. Leveraged appropriately, virtual care can provide an opportunity to significantly improve access throughout the community while maintaining the centralized scale needed for sustainability. Further, virtual care can improve access to all portions of your community, including under-served and vulnerable populations.

As we move into a “new normal,” hospitals and healthcare 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.


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