COVID-19 has forever changed the face of healthcare delivery. While most practices already used some type of technology in their work, the pandemic forced many to implement new tools, including text or telehealth, to safely care for patients during lockdowns and stay at home orders.
Now, as we evolve into a post-COVID world, a virtual care strategy – one that incorporates telehealth and other virtual care solutions – is healthcare’s new reality. To be effective, that strategy needs to consider the patient journey and operationalize processes that focus on improving the patient experience, both inside and out of the practice. Creating a consistent experience, in a way that is cost-effective and resource-efficient, is an essential part of a virtual care strategy.
What is Virtual Care?
Virtual care involves all the different ways that healthcare providers remotely interact with patients and use digital tools to communicate in real-time. This includes telehealth, text messaging and secure text to exchange information.
Let’s say you want to reach out to your patients about diabetes screenings, vaccine clinics or asking them to update insurance cards. Traditional patient outreach might be phone calls or postcard mailers. Those tactics don’t work so well anymore - they are costly, resource heavy and often miss the target. Maybe targeting a specific patient group and sending a text would be more efficient?
What if you need to follow up with a patient after a procedure? What is a better use of your staff’s time – leaving a voicemail requesting a call back, getting a return voicemail, and then calling the patient back again or sending a single secure text with the necessary information?
While some types of care require an in-office visit, others work great in a virtual environment. This includes post-procedure follow-ups, Medicare check-ins, wound status, behavioral health consults, weight management, sleep medicine, chronic disease management, prescript refill requests, quick questions, monitoring vitals, and more. Telehealth is a large component of this, but secure text and SMS text messaging also facilitate information sharing or support quick questions, forms, photos and data.
Why Does My Practice Need a Virtual Care Strategy?
In recent survey of more than 2,000 US adults ages 18+, conducted online by The Harris Poll, we learned nearly half of Americans (42%) reported using telehealth services since the pandemic first began. It’s not surprising to learn, that patients came to appreciate the convenience of video chatting with their doctor. Of patients who like using telehealth services, 65% say it's because telehealth visits are more convenient than in-office appointments, and 63% say it’s because they don’t have to worry about being exposed to other potentially sick patients. Americans who like using telehealth services also like it because it’s easier to schedule an appointment via telehealth than an in-office appt (44%), and because follow-ups/communications post-appointment are more streamlined (38%).
So, the convenience and safety are two themes that emerged during COVID and will continue to impact consumer choice post-COVID. Those results show us that telehealth is no longer a “plus” or “nice to have” for practices – it will become a requirement to stay in business. Virtual care and contactless offices will transform the way healthcare is provided. Today’s healthcare providers need modern, impactful ways to maximize patient engagement, improve outcomes and enable more timely, efficient connections between patients and physicians.
For providers, implementing a virtual care strategy within the practice gives growing opportunities to deliver the right care at the right time in the right place through the right channel, in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.
Virtual care allows providers to connect with patients with a regular flow of information – not specific to one visit or condition. It’s a way of easily engaging patients and has a valuable impact as we move further into value-based care.
It’s crucial for providers to remember it’s not just about telehealth -- it’s virtual care. By developing a roadmap to leverage virtual care both now and post-COVID-19, including providing services via video or text, physicians can ultimately be more productive, engage with more patients and run a more profitable practice. Developing a virtual health strategy now is imperative to long-term success and improved outcomes through more comprehensive patient experience.