Telemedicine: The “New Normal” & Strategic Lever to Meet Changing Healthcare Dynamics
Telemedicine has reached an inflection point. Around this time last year, providers and payors alike fast-tracked or extended secure telemedicine offerings, expanded service coverages and adjusted policy provisions. Following decades of barriers and lagging adoption, organizations were faced with complexities brought on by COVID-19 that changed the status quo profoundly – a change we believe is here to stay. Virtualized care is now a “new normal,” and telemedicine is no longer a “nice to have” but a business imperative. Telemedicine increases availability, efficiency and convenience of medical services for patients and helps service providers to increase revenue, reduce cost and improve the quality of their services. Healthcare leaders should lean into this and begin planning beyond the pandemic to enhance competitiveness in the burgeoning “connected care” marketplace.
Telehealth solutions may seem relatively simple with targeted capabilities, such as videoconference hosting and EHR integrations. However, this functionality is just the baseline. With virtual care serving as the foundation to delivering better patient experiences, additional solutions can be integrated that cultivate even more immersive interactions that enable earlier disease detection, deeper real-time insights and improved outcomes. We’ll explore two emerging technologies with great potential to improve the telehealth experience: computer vision and patient biometric monitoring.
Computer vision (CV) captures data from images and videos to analyze and extract meaningful information for real-time insights that promote more impactful virtual clinical interactions and supercharge provider decision-making. Within an integrated virtual care ecosystem, CV services can proactively populate new patient data in the EHR before the virtual encounter and use machine learning (ML) to alert providers of high-level discernments, ensuring they have the information necessary to effectively administer care.
In 2019, neurological specialists and researchers at Mount Sinai Health System leveraged CV to spot minute indications of acute neurological illness. Researchers “trained” the intelligent system using over 37,000 CT scans within a simulated clinical environment, rapidly identifying patterns often difficult to spot with the naked eye. The system was able to evaluate one scan every 1.2 seconds and assembled knowledge across hundreds of patients at a rate approximately 150 times faster than radiologist interpretation. Imagine how many lives this technology could save for time-sensitive neurological illnesses if that information was integrated into each patient’s virtual encounter.
A critical component to sustaining the success of telemedicine’s adoption is a focus on quality. But in the absence of in-person visits, clinicians have limited capabilities to ascertain concurrent biomarkers necessary for effective care delivery. This challenge creates the need for remote patient monitoring (RPM) or “telemonitoring,” especially for high-risk patients with acute heart, lung and neurological conditions.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) solutions allow patients to self-monitor and manage their symptoms at home while allowing doctors to communicate with patients and view real-time data related to the current conditions of the patients. With the support of RPM systems, EHR and telehealth visits can integrate patient biometric data monitored by wearables and home health devices. We are already seeing some of this technology in health “watches” that monitor heart rate, activity levels, sleep quality and blood pressure in real-time. However, devices that target more complex illnesses require clinical-grade capabilities that go beyond the wearables currently on the market. These devices need to go beyond the hardware, providing a platform that integrates with EHR systems. In the future, we can expect more sophisticated use cases, such as fitness tracking with exercise reminders, fall detection for seniors via floor sensors or medication adherence monitoring using CV. Integrating all this information back into the EHR system can be a powerful tool for accelerating the attainment of the “Quadruple Aim” of value-based care efforts (VBC), reducing hospital readmission and hospitalization expenses.
Healthcare leaders should view RPM opportunities as a necessary component to long-range telemedicine strategies. Early research indicates large segments of the industry are already in progress with these initiatives, with 88% of providers already investing in or closely evaluating purchasing RPM solutions. The federal government has also taken note, issuing clarifications and additional guidance in Q4 2020 with more expected throughout 2021.
Leading healthcare organizations are already increasing coordinated scaling of telehealth capabilities with AI and digital enhancers. The outcomes of their efforts are comprehensive digital “front-door strategies” that integrate siloed platforms, mobile applications and web portals to mimic user experiences that patients have come to expect in other consumer-centric industries. Here are some practical next-step recommendations to either start or accelerate your journey:
- Incorporate virtual care platforms into IT portfolio management programs, paying thoughtful attention to strategic planning and data governance: Future-fit healthcare organizations cultivate strategic success by conducting capability mapping of fast-tracked tech and standardizing documentation and governance. Begin establishing perspectives on a model and roadmap for capability maturity, enhancing and scaling your telemedicine platforms to be strategic digital assets.
- Establish a differentiated first point of virtual contact: A successful digital front door strategy that supports virtual care delivery should include tools to guide, direct and support consumers and providers to effectively obtain the information they are looking for. For example, web portals and applications can be enhanced with single sign on (SSO) functionality to enable users to securely authenticate with multiple applications and websites by using just one set of credentials.
- Enable integrated self-service capabilities: To maximize and improve patient engagement, healthcare organizations should implement self-service capabilities that allow patients to interact with the organization in a meaningful and relevant way. Many healthcare consumers strongly desire access to self-service tools to complete a variety of required tasks, such as completing medical forms asking questions that may arise before or after a telemedicine appointment. By allowing patients to take control over some aspects of their care, healthcare organizations can bolster satisfaction scores by making services more convenient.
Healthcare leaders must include next-gen telehealth capabilities in their strategic IT roadmaps to keep pace with consumer preferences and aggressive competitor adoptions of digital-first healthcare delivery models. By proactively redesigning existing telehealth capabilities and integrating digital tools, healthcare organizations can begin the necessary shift from a reactive and transactional state to a more proactive and dynamic one. As this shift continues to unfold healthcare leaders have an opportunity to reposition themselves as providers of reliable and immersive consumer-centric experiences by expanding comprehensive digital strategies that complement existing telemedicine capabilities.