By Rick Halton, VP Product and Marketing, Lumeon
We all had high hopes that our way of life during the coronavirus pandemic would even out into a “new normal.” We thought maybe things could reopen and we could all go back to some semblance of the existence we were used to.
But daily life in the U.S. has not recovered as expected. With virus transmission rates spiking around the country and no solid national plan for getting things under control, we all know now that the disruption is going to last for much longer than we ever thought.
What does this mean for healthcare – is virtual care here to stay?
From the outset of the pandemic, there’s been a surge in acceptance of telehealth technology driven by the need to stem transmission and by patients’ fear of entering hospitals. This fear may have subsided a little in late spring but is now only increasing as the virus again surges in much of the country. A June 2020 survey by health strategy company Carmichael & Company found that almost a quarter (22.6%) of respondents would prefer to deal with a medical emergency themselves rather than call an EMT. It also found that 76.5% of patients would prefer to visit medical offices that are not located in or connected to a hospital.
Telemedicine services provider Amwell says that the average daily number of telemedicine visits is now 10 times higher than last year, although recent research published in Politico shows a different story – telehealth appointments dropping by around 50% since their peak in May 2020. So, is this a missed opportunity for telehealth and have we just replaced in-person appointments with video conferencing appointments, without addressing the larger need of care delivery? Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity here is to leverage technology to digitize the process of care, keeping healthy patients at home, reducing the burden on staff, delighting patients with convenient, modern experiences, and delivering better results, more quickly – after all, isn’t this what virtual care is really about, whereas telehealth is perhaps more limited to just a basic video call.
Indeed, across the board, data shows that the increasing telehealth usage rates are not only due to necessity. A Penn Medicine survey found that 67% of gastroenterology and hematology patients and their physicians prefer telemedicine appointments to in-person visits. And new data from Doctor.com suggests that 83% of patients are interested in continuing with telehealth even after the coronavirus pandemic has abated.
The next step – from care transactions to care journeys
Considering that telemedicine has struggled to find a foothold within mainstream medical practice for decades, its new status as the go-to method of care is a “historic shift,” according to Wyatt Decker, CEO of OptumHealth.
But, to remain viable and competitive as this shift gains steam, providers need to think differently about how they deliver care virtually. In most cases, interactions between patients and physicians are treated as individual events, or distinct “transactions,” each unconnected, standing on their own. A transaction can be many things, such as a referral, a booking, a reminder, gathering health payer details, a health risk survey, a surgery fear survey, an appointment, an order or test, a chart review or follow up appointment and instructions.
To make virtual care more effective and efficient, providers need to instead view these transactions not as independent events, but as a coordinated and personalized sequence through time. This way of thinking is less difficult than it may seem at first blush, as care journeys can be constructed gradually by focusing on immediate challenges and joining together just a few care transactions into an automated sequence, gradually working towards longer journeys over time. So, while an entire Patient Access journey might be a lot to swallow on day one, an appointment rescheduling journey, a health payer data collection journey, or a surgical fear survey would offer some quick wins to get us on our way.
As a team from McKinsey & Company put it some time ago: “Companies need to recognize and address the fact that—at least, in most cases—they are simply not wired to naturally think about the journeys their customers take. They are wired to maximize productivity and scale economies through functional units. They are wired for transactions, not journeys.” This has been addressed in many industries already and must now be tackled in healthcare.
The preferred patient experience – a healthcare journey
So how can healthcare providers utilize telehealth effectively and “rewire” themselves to approach each interaction with a patient as an element of the person’s ongoing care journey? What does that actually look like in practice? The McKinsey team lays out an illustrative example in the field of media, which can shed some light on how healthcare providers can shift.
A media company concerned with low customer satisfaction looked at its customer on-boarding process for problems. A customer going through this process would need to have as many as nine phone calls, receive a home visit from a technician, and complete several digital and mail interactions with the company.
The average customer satisfaction for each element of the process was high – 90% – but when asked about satisfaction for the entire on-boarding process, customers were only 40% satisfied. The customers’ interactions with the company during the process tended to focus on clarifying information or fixing problems with an order, and while the questions and problems were usually addressed successfully, the customers were frustrated that so many interactions were necessary in the first place. The cumulative effect of an unnecessarily large number of customer service interactions – even if they were each positive – was distinctly negative.
Approaching the on-boarding process as a cohesive journey would result in changes aimed at reducing the number of interactions with each customer:
An enterprise platform to orchestrate the patient journey
Weaving together a contextual patient journey through time is a complex task; doing so successfully requires technology that can shepherd patients through a process likely to include numerous stages and various physicians and other practitioners.
It’s possible to start small with an initial solution on top of the electronic health record (EHR) system but that will only lay a foundation. To orchestrate a care journey, you need to connect the touchpoints over time, and to communicate with the patient in a way that will make them a stakeholder in their own journey.
At Lumeon, we call this guided process a “care pathway,” and its automation and orchestration are what our company was founded to accomplish. Our solution taps into EHR systems to apply vital clinical data to the care journey, and now that telehealth is a common element in regular care, Lumeon is joining patient data, automation, and care orchestration into a winning combination for providers and patients alike.
Healthcare providers are now poised to take this on. Even as hospitals are forced to cut costs due to shrinking revenues, most hospital CFOs are not trimming their technology and automation budgets. A survey by Black Book found that 84% of hospitals and 79% of large physician practices have completed audits on their digital infrastructure, and 93% of providers said they plan to allocate funding to address missing and redundant capabilities and systems.
So, after being quick to respond to the onset of the pandemic with short-term, stop-gap telehealth solutions, providers now have the opportunity to implement robust enterprise platforms that can implement a broad variety of virtual care journeys.
To find out more, download our Virtual Care Playbook for Surgery. You can also watch our on-demand webinar featured in Becker’s CEO/CFO virtual event, to learn more about how hospitals can make the most of this unusual moment in healthcare through digital innovation.