Guest Column | April 22, 2021

Making Strides Toward Greater Success In Virtual Care

By Josh Weiner, CEO, SR Health by Solutionreach

Virtual Covid 19 Clinical Trial

A well-known proverb posits that necessity is the mother of invention. And while telehealth slightly predates the worldwide COVID-19 calamity, we were sure glad — and relieved — the technology was available when the pandemic threatened in-person care.

Before COVID, in-office care was the only viable option healthcare organizations had for most appointments. But plying telehealth as a safe delivery method during COVID protocols opened a broad range of care and revenue possibilities for providers. Telehealth use by providers exploded from 22 percent of physicians offering it in 2019 to 80 percent in 2020.

In response, patients readily and rapidly adopted telemedicine during the pandemic. Between June and November of 2020, more than 30 percent of all weekly health center visits took place via telehealth. Though only 11 percent of U.S. patients participated in telehealth visits in 2019, that figure quadrupled in 2020 to nearly 50 percent. Feedback from patients who scheduled telehealth visits both for safety and convenience is overwhelmingly positive. Eighty-three percent of Americans expect to continue to rely on telehealth visits even after COVID.

Telehealth has been an elixir for hospital systems and medical practices both to resume care and to crawl out of the financial rubble caused by the pandemic. The technology also helps providers attain the following:

  • Advancement of a new business model that emphasizes consumer-based care.
  • Expanded access to care and allows providers to reach more patients.
  • Increased practice efficiency and is less time-consuming for patients and providers (a regular in-person visit takes 121 minutes of patients’ time compared to 16 minutes for a telehealth visit).
  • Increased revenue while reducing costs (average cost of an on-site visit is $146 compared to $79 for a telehealth visit).

In the larger context, telehealth is but one of several tools that have ushered in a new era of virtual care as an alternative resource for providers and patients. There’s also the option of billable virtual check-ins — 10- to 15-minute interactions between a caregiver and a patient either by smartphone video and audio, text, or phone call. Though questions remain about how Medicare will continue to pay for telehealth after 2021, other virtual care options will be paid for and many commercial payers are already committing to paying for telehealth and other virtual care methods.

This paradigm shift means organizations can offer an array of virtual care options to better meet the distinct needs of individual patients alongside traditional one-size-fits-all in-person appointments. For example, virtual health allows providers to address gaps in care by extending more flexible and consumer-friendly ways for patients to receive care. A patient who requires routine maintenance care and may have to travel a great distance for an in-person visit may now be able to schedule a virtual care telehealth or virtual check-in in its place.

Virtual health also can be a critical advantage to providers in scheduling patients for much-needed preventive care and chronic care management. Though some preventive and chronic care — such as tests, screenings, or flu shots — may necessitate an in-office visit, many other types of maintenance appointments can be equally served through virtual health.

As alluded to earlier, another aspect of virtual care is that practices can provide so-called hybrid care services to patients to better meet their needs, improve outcomes, and increase adherence. Offering a combination of in-person and virtual care assists providers in getting patients the treatment they need while also ensuring that providers can fill their schedule.

However, the lynchpin to more effectively ensure that patients schedule appointments and follow-up care is creating a single, more robust appointment workflow that supports both in-person and virtual care visits. An appointment workflow that employs text messaging and automation to connect with patients at every stage of their healthcare journey helps minimize disruptions such as no-shows while increasing confirmation rates. Through an improved workflow, providers interact with patients at five key steps — schedule, prepare, same-day, visit, and follow-up — rather than only during the visit itself.

The effectiveness of an upgraded appointment workflow that touches patients before, during, and after a care visit also hinges on adjusting to patients’ individual communication preferences. Nearly 80 percent of patients want to receive text messages from their provider. At the same time, automated appointment reminders can greatly reduce missed appointments. More responsive real-time communication through texting means providers can effectively reach out to large numbers of patients quicker to convey timely information. For instance, an organization might want to reach out to specific groups of patients for chronic care management, send out weather-related closure alerts, or offer preventive care opportunities such as COVID or flu shots.

In the same way, telehealth is a game changer for continuing safe and convenient care during and after the pandemic, a text-based patient engagement system can revolutionize the way providers ensure patients make and keep virtual care and in-person appointments. Think of it as an organizational necessity to delivering the best care possible to the greatest number of patients in a more digital, consumer-driven world.

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.