Guest Column | December 16, 2020

Looking To 2021: Why We Need To Focus On Virtual Care

By Josh Weiner, SR Health by Solutionreach


To say that 2020 has been a clunker is, well, the understatement of the year. Collectively speaking, most people around the world are more than happy to see the year overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic in their rearview mirror. For that reason, perhaps no new year in recent history has been as longingly anticipated as is 2021.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that patient access to virtual healthcare is no longer a “nice to have” innovation for the future but rather a paramount necessity of the present. The worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus in March 2020 demanded that virtual health technologies like telehealth be repositioned at the forefront. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of telehealth visits during the first quarter of 2020 increased by 50 percent compared with the same period in 2019. Similarly, during a single week in March 2020, the CDC reported a 154 percent increase in telehealth visits.

For that reason, virtual care is at the dawn of a new era in patient care and communication. The technology gives patients and providers a likable pairing: the agility to prioritize one-on-one interactions and the flexibility to support health when and where it’s most convenient—for both parties. As evidence of how prevalent virtual care will become, a Deloitte survey found that one-third of health organization executives believe that at least 25 percent of all inpatient care will be delivered virtually by 2040. Given what’s happened in 2020, that date has moved forward quite a bit.

Akin to electronic health records’ (EHR) role in technologizing charting, virtual care is the rejuvenation needed for successful patient engagement. The rapid adoption of virtual medicine by health organizations and patients means that it’s not just a Band-Aid; this highly effective patient communication technology is now the new normal.

But unlike the adoption of EHRs, healthcare organizations cannot “set and forget” patient engagement technology. Instead, we must advocate for continuously modernizing communication touchpoints. As a standard best practice, we must ensure that the availability of both accessible and personalized communication options—from scheduling through the point of care and back again—fits every patient’s unique needs and abilities.

To achieve this, healthcare organizations must pivot from thinking of healthcare as a series of experiences and reframe it as a part of the fabric of our daily lives. For virtual (and in-person) healthcare to seamlessly be a part of everyday life, we need to have the technological tools that enable persistent one-on-one patient communication and engagement to be a reality.

As hinted at earlier, the impetus for greater technology migration and adoption isn’t just coming from the healthcare industry. Awareness and hands-on experience of digital communications and texting with providers are more and more coming from patients themselves. Eighty-three percent of Americans say they expect to make telehealth visits after COVID-19 has ended. This number is remarkable when you consider the fact that just eight percent of patients had ever had a telehealth visit before the pandemic hit. 

Again, virtual health isn’t just about telehealth appointments with a doctor on your cellphone. It encompasses a wide range of personalized communication tools that can improve care resulting in more positive patient experiences.

Two-way texting. Voicemail is out, texting is in. Patients increasingly want to receive appointment reminders and other messages from healthcare organizations via text. According to a 2020 report, 98 percent of all text messages are opened and 95 percent of text messages are opened and responded to within 3 minutes of being delivered. The same study also found that nine out of 10 consumers would like to communicate with businesses through text messages.

Automated calls or emails. Because the majority of patients fail to remember the recommendations and treatments physicians give them, the use of automated calls or emails is vital. Reminders of doctors’ instructions to patients can significantly help reduce this problem and also emphasize to them that you care about their health and well-being.

Educational communication. This is another virtual care touchpoint by which healthcare organizations can keep patients informed through newsletters or emails. Similar to the automated care instructions, communicating pertinent and timely health information helps underscore that you care about your patients’ health. Case in point, during the COVID-19 pandemic when patients are confused, worried, and lacking accurate information.

Appointment and billing reminders. Even automated messages reminding patients of upcoming appointments or overdue bills can deepen a relationship with your patients. The more touchpoints you can leverage to connect will trigger name recognition and remembrance. As a patient sees that you are working to reach out to them, that relationship grows.

The era of virtual health is upon us in which patients are not only more accustomed to connecting with health organizations digitally, but it’s become their preferred way of communicating. Virtual health provides a compelling opportunity for us to review our patient communication and engagement strategies and explore the many ways we can connect with them for improved care and stronger relationships.

About The Author

Josh Weiner is the CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, Josh served on the Solutionreach board of directors for three years. Before Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife and two children. Josh and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah's mountains and deserts. Connect with him on LinkedIn @joshfweiner.