On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. The accessibility of portable, electronic communication technologies had already begun to change our habits, from shopping to personal interactions with our friends, family, and neighbors. But in the three years that have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the way we live in this world today has changed even more, most specifically in the way we access healthcare. Due to COVID-19 precautions, rather than walking into the doctors’ office many patients saw their providers by way of virtual visits, and many families had to leave loved ones at the hospital entrance in the anticipation of returning to them later. Where is the world heading? Will digital healthcare remain as successful as it was during the initial days of COVID-19? Is the use of digital health and the use of electronics for family support and communication here to stay?
What is Virtual healthcare/Telehealth/Mobile healthcare?
Virtual healthcare is a remote two-way digital conversation between patient and their healthcare practitioner. These exchanges can take place via phone call, email, instant message, or live video chat.
Telehealth is the use of technology (Computers and mobile gadgets like tablets and smartphones) by the healthcare provider to enhance or support healthcare services. This technology can be used from home by the patient, or a nurse or other healthcare professional could offer telehealth services out of a clinic or mobile van. By providing timely care to those who might otherwise postpone it, or who reside in locations with a shortage of providers, virtual care can provide a chance to dramatically enhance patient outcomes.
mHealth (mobile health) is the use of mobile phones and other wireless technology in medical care. It can close gaps in care by enabling patients to speak with their doctor or other members of their care team without physically being present. Users can continuously track and manage specific health data using wearable technology and other mobile technology.
The Rise of Digital Healthcare post COVID-19 – 5 Lessons Learned
The rise of telehealth and its adoption
Patients felt that telehealth was convenient and were more satisfied with telehealth than virtual visits and would continue to use telehealth for their healthcare. However, physicians felt that telehealth was expensive, and they had concerns about the effectiveness of telemedicine compared with in-person care, had physician burnouts, and had concerns about protecting their patient’s personal health information.
Nearly half of doctors stated they think telemedicine is a viable option for treating persistent chronic diseases. Remote healthcare enables patients to be treated more effectively, relieving pressure on medical facilities, and lowering operational expenses and common infections associated with healthcare. Expectations seem to differ by age and income level category, payer status, and service type. Higher income earners and those with individual or group insurance through their employers are more likely to use telemedicine. The demand from patients for virtual Mental and Behavioral health is also rising. Chronic care providers were able to do more virtual visits, while Pediatricians, Gerontologists, and Gynecologists were not.
Triage of urgent and non-urgent patients can be aided by digital tools
Using Digital Technology, patients can be effectively screened and evaluated where they live, prior to being admitted to a hospital. This protects healthcare professionals, other patients, and the community from exposure, and relieves pressure on the limited resources of the healthcare system.
Using eConsults to Expand Access to Specialty Care
Another aspect of telehealth that benefited from the pandemic was the development of applications like electronic consultations (eConsults). While not suitable for emergency care, eConsults offer the opportunity for specialists and primary care clinicians to work together on challenging situations despite distance or time zone issues. They have also improved access to specialty treatment while reducing wait times, according to several studies. eConsults offer the ability to simplify the referral process and give access to specialty expertise that was previously overextended or unavailable by minimizing referrals, enhancing care coordination, and lowering costs.
Patient and provider satisfaction with Telemedicine for consultations
Research showed that during the pandemic, patient satisfaction with in-person, video consultation, and telephone visits was comparable. Physicians expressed favorable opinions toward the use of telemedicine, with treatment being on par with in-person consultations. But it all came with its own challenges. Most new caregivers had to swiftly acclimate to this transition to offer secure and exceptional care. It was difficult to try to match the in-person visits with the virtual visits because it had to resemble the customary in-person visits. Being professionally dressed, choosing a quiet environment, employing high-quality webcams, and having a robust internet connection were all vital and were only learned over time through experimentation.
Measures taken by the healthcare payers
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how the American health system’s inefficiencies and disparities are a result of misaligned financial incentives and the dispersion of services across sectors. The pandemic has both accelerated ongoing attempts to restructure payment systems and given fuel to long-overdue improvements in health care delivery, such as flexibility for virtual care. One example is the transition to alternative payment models (APMs).
Notably, COVID-19 has also encouraged new, creative collaborations between payers and other sectors, such as joint projects with the pharma companies to promote biomedical innovation, coordination with community-based organizations to meet patients’ social needs, and collaborative partnerships with public health departments to enhance disease surveillance. Accelerating the shift to value-based payment, trying to extend flexibilities for virtual health services and solutions, rethinking advantage layout using the principles of value-based insurance, aligning incentives and investment opportunities to address health inequities, and developing mechanisms for collecting data on health care spending.
HealthEdge & Digital Healthcare
HealthEdge’s healthcare SaaS software provides payers with a digital foundation that enables them to deliver a transparent and consumer-centric experience at lower cost while offering higher quality and higher service levels to their members, providers and partners. Learn more here.