The novel COVID-19 pandemic has transformed nearly every industry and facet of life, with healthcare as a prime standout. Just like a handful of industries, healthcare has been forced to reconceptualize how care is delivered, putting an emphasis on patient affordability, comfort, convenience and safety. From traditional doctors’ office visits to new implementations of virtual alternatives, the industry is shifting and adapting to what is now the new normal: telehealth.
In attempt to further reduce the spread of the virus, telehealth offerings became the go-to solution for routine visits, counseling services, and more. Recently, telehealth gained additional support from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and key legislation under the CARES Act has also allowed providers to access funding and meet necessary requirements. With that, providers have learned the importance of meeting patients in the comfort of their own homes, where they feel the most at ease and protected from potential exposure. While the pandemic brought on an increase of telehealth offerings and in-home set ups, many payers have expressed interest in continuing its availability until further notice, which begs the questions — why is telehealth so important and is it here to stay?
Three reasons telehealth will stick around
The healthcare industry has shifted away from solely in-person visits to now, virtual appointments and screenings. Moving forward, we can anticipate more of an emphasis placed on how well telehealth providers can not only manage equipment, but ensure it’s a convenient, viable and cost-effective option. In order to do so, providers must continue to enhance any and all digital capabilities. Telehealth and process automation has always been a concern, but it should now be pushed as a priority, in order to further enhance retention and engagement.
While care may appear slightly different with telehealth, companies have strived to ensure the quality is comparable. In fact, many payers have reported very few obstacles when ensuring patients receive sufficient care at home. Telehealth and additional digital capabilities have opened the door for an overall positive experience — which can be credited to three reasons.
Convenience. Whether it’s leaving work early or making additional arrangements, going to a physical doctor’s appointment has always required extra planning. Telehealth allows a patient to skip the wait and avoid a potentially hefty trek to an office building or hospital. With that, virtual offerings can provide 24/7 access, alleviating the issue of time restrictions for in-person appointments. Beyond receiving virtual care, telehealth can also help patients set up and use any durable medical equipment that is required as part of their care plan. This, too, saves time and improves patient experience by providing patients with a convenient and direct means to receive the help and guidance they need on their terms—no office visits or calls to the DME’s customer service required.
Affordability. Telehealth visits are notably more cost-effective compared to in-person visits, especially when it comes to addressing minor health concerns. A study found that one telehealth visit could cost an average of $79, compared to an office visit’s estimate cost of $146. With a lower cost associated, more people could be inclined to take care of minor concerns that often are neglected. Now is the time to prioritize your physical and mental health and get the proper care needed, with a more cost-effective option.
Safety. To limit exposure and ensure patient safety when the pandemic first hit, telehealth was implemented to eliminate the need for in-person visits unless it was an absolutely emergency. With the virtual option in play for the long-term, those who are still hesitant can remain at ease with the ability to access quality care where, when and how they want. With new COVID-19 cases in the country reaching the latest all-time high, it’s possible we are going to see individuals continue to lean on telehealth to address health concerns virtually and then determine if an in-person visit is necessary.
Core focuses of virtual health
Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the healthcare industry from frequent high-traffic in-person visits, to now appointments with a provider in a more casual, yet efficient way from home. While telehealth offerings did exist pre-pandemic, the true benefits now during this difficult time relate to safety, convenience, and reduction in costs.
To keep patients as comfortable as possible, the patient experience must remain a core focus. In order to have a successful telehealth experience, digital capabilities must be user-friendly, manageable and easy to navigate. Providers must keep in mind that an appointment itself could be a stressor for the patient, which is why it’s crucial to ensure a seamless virtual check-in experience. As mishaps with technology or equipment could happen, it’s imperative for the patient to feel valued and heard. Patient satisfaction surveys could alleviate stress and provide feedback to ensure a seamless experience the next time around.
Virtual care will be a key option in the foreseeable future, which is why it’s crucial for providers to implement strategies that create value, improve patient experience and deliver quality care through a means that is reliable, convenient and effective.
Ryan Bullock is COO at Aeroflow Healthcare.
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