Guest Column | August 16, 2017

Common Virtual Care Mistakes Every Health System Can Avoid

HITO Jon Pearce, Zipnosis

By Jon Pearce, Chief Executive Officer, Zipnosis

Healthcare is undergoing a sea change. The rise of healthcare consumerism, current and projected physician shortages, and the transition to value-based care are making necessary a shift in how care is delivered. Patients require greater convenience and transparent costs, providers need to be able to safely and effectively care for more patients, and health systems need to better manage populations as they take on greater risk.

To solve for these challenges, health systems are embracing virtual care and telemedicine technologies. But many health system leaders find themselves in new territory when evaluating virtual care solutions and launching the service. After nearly 10 years in the virtual care industry, I’ve seen how this situation can invite error and, over the years, have found these five mistakes are some of the most common. The good news — they’re avoidable.

Mistake 1: Unclear Service Line Strategy
Virtual care has the potential to transform care delivery and patient experience within a health system. But without a clear plan, regular communication, and stakeholder engagement, the virtual care project does not get the proper attention and true buy-in needed to create a successful, long-standing virtual care offering.

Health systems that achieve the most success with building a virtual care strategy involve leaders throughout the organization in the selection process, launch, and ongoing management of the virtual care service. The makeup of this virtual care steering committee will vary from health system to health system, but typically includes a strategic leader as well as leaders from the clinical, business development, marketing, and technology departments.

The virtual care steering committee should be responsible for developing and updating the service strategy, selecting a vendor and solution, and creating service roadmap. This gives cross-functional leaders a vested interest in the success of the program. Additionally, by garnering organization-wide involvement, the steering committee supports service success through a two-way communication channel, helping to collect feedback and provide information about the service to front-line employees.

Mistake 2: Choosing The Wrong Technology Or Partner
With the explosion of virtual care and telemedicine companies in the market, health systems looking to launch virtual care have a surfeit of choices. Many, however, go into the selection process thinking that all virtual care partners and technologies are essentially the same. This can lead to making a strategic decision based on limited information.

The key here is research, research, research. Start by consulting stakeholders throughout the organization and gather data to understand patient and provider needs. Then, review organizational strategy to see how virtual care fits into short- and long-term goals. Combine this information into a scorecard or rubric you can use to evaluate virtual care solutions and partners.

The right partner for a given health system should offer technologies that meet patient needs, while fitting seamlessly into their lives. The technology solution also needs to fit into provider workflows to maximize clinical efficiency and support a positive provider experience. The right virtual care solution will help provide the highest levels of care quality to meet patient and provider expectations. Finally, a virtual care partner needs to be just that – a partner. Health systems should look for a company that is committed to their success – from launch through growth, scaling, and innovating.

Mistake 3: Limited Marketing Support
Any new service line needs marketing support to be a success. Patients can’t use a service if they don’t know it exists. Nonetheless, health systems sometimes forget the importance of ongoing marketing support for the service line.

Of all the mistakes health systems make, this is both the most common and the easiest to remedy. Start by involving marketing in the partner/technology selection process - this team likely has significant insights into patient needs and desires. Early involvement from marketing also gives them time to develop campaigns to promote the service - both internally and externally.

When launching a virtual care service, health systems need a multi-channel, long-term marketing plan to drive service adoption. It’s not enough to buy billboard space and call it a day. A virtual care promotional strategy will include elements like prominent website placement, digital advertising, social media, and email marketing alongside more traditional healthcare marketing like direct mail. Most of all — marketing support should be year-round.

Mistake 4: Heavy Focus On Transactional Revenue
Despite the much discussed transition to value-based care, many health systems are still mired in a transactional, fee-for-service mindset. However, as with other digital technologies, virtual care’s value lies outside of direct revenue.

As part of goal setting and strategy development, the virtual care committee needs to provide definition around organizational value. The value conversation in virtual care has many lenses, and may include elements such as cost savings, patient acquisition, and patient retention. These all relate to downstream revenue or cost avoidance that can be directly tied to the virtual care service.

Health systems are complex organizations, and most will need to measure value from several different angles to gain a full picture of the service’s impact.

Mistake 5: Lack Of Measurement, Metrics, And Reporting
Traditionally, virtual care service lines have been subject to a lack of oversight. Health systems that don’t set up a clear reporting structure or determine which metrics to track will never be sure whether their virtual care service is meeting its objectives and won’t have the insight needed to improve or grow the service.

As part of their strategy development role, the virtual care steering committee should develop clear service line objectives and identify the metrics and data needed to garner visibility into service line performance. Typically, the service administrator is responsible for providing the reporting, working with the virtual care partner and EHR administrator (if different) to gather, assemble, and analyze data about the program. A solid reporting structure and regular schedule can help stakeholders stay accountable and provide the information needed to optimize and scale the service over time.

About The Author
Jon Pearce is a healthcare entrepreneur focused on leveraging the power of technology to improve the way healthcare systems engage and treat their patients. Pearce developed his bold vision for the industry based on experience with med-tech startups and as a venture analyst. He parlayed that experience into a virtual model that enables healthcare organizations to enhance patient engagement without sacrificing quality. A big-picture visionary with an eye on the details, Pearce spends his downtime competing in triathlons, collecting interesting t-shirts and spending time with his young son.