The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented shift in the way consumers view and access a variety of goods and services—and healthcare is no exception. Recent studies show that many patients, including vulnerable populations like those living with cancer (PDF), are delaying recommended care and procedures—and will continue to do so for at least several months amid fears over the safety of in-person visits. In response, reports of providers adapting to offer care virtually are all the more commonplace, with almost half of physicians now treating patients through telemedicine platforms, up from just 18% in 2018.
These trends have solidified virtual care as a mainstay, and, as a result, the virtual visit has become a commodity—a service that can be provided by many capable vendors. However, the logistics that power the adoption of virtual care are often overlooked. As healthcare administrators turn to telemedicine to resume “non-urgent” healthcare services, we must ensure that best-in-class technology solutions are utilized to improve the virtual care experience—for providers, clinical staff and, importantly, patients.
Health systems and their networks face significant operational issues when delivering care in a remote setting due to the range of potential interactions and diversity of devices—adding to the already recognized administrative burden that comes with routine patient care. With each patient visit comes over a dozen manual tasks, including patient intake and registration, in-visit clinical note writing as well as back-office billing and claims processing. The virtual visit adds even more steps, such as helping patients access the appropriate technology for a two-way video interface or sending custom links to a “virtual waiting room” at the right time.
Facilitating a seamless virtual care experience before, during and after a patient’s visit should be top of mind—particularly as patient expectations have heightened and healthcare has progressed toward a technology-enabled future. Fortunately, the automation of operational workflows can help healthcare administrators smooth the friction around conducting virtual visits at scale.
Intelligent automation extends our capacity in healthcare by enabling us to do more with the same workforce and technology infrastructure. In fact, digital medical assistants can use artificial intelligence to automate repetitive, cognitively tiring and error-prone tasks. This technology can support the influx of virtual visits by offloading administrative processes such as co-payment collection, clinical documentation and pre-population of common clinical orders.
For patients not as familiar with digital interactions and the variety of telemedicine modalities, which can include platforms like Amwell, Doctor on Demand and Teladoc or video conference solutions like RingCentral and Zoom, participating in virtual visits can be a daunting change. Additional technological challenges associated with virtual care can result in heightened frustration, increased no-show rates or decreased activation, so maintaining patient engagement throughout the patient journey is even more important in a virtual environment. Digital medical assistants can automate appointment reminders, offer detailed setup guidance for patients and provide “just-in-time” virtual visit links to ensure patients and providers can make the most of their time together.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also introduced new variables and risks that patients, providers and healthcare institutions at large must consider when seeking and delivering care. Until recently, it was a relatively straightforward process to determine where a patient should receive routine care. Now, given the risk of disease spread, providers find themselves considering which patients to see, when to see them and whether to see them virtually or in person. This creates additional complexity in determining when to schedule patients and in which medium to conduct the visit. Platforms that leverage intelligent automation can help clinical teams prescreen all scheduled patients, collect a thorough medical history, intelligently segment patients into risk cohorts and triage each cohort to an individualized destination, be it a return to in-person care or a virtual environment.
In the “virtual exam room,” things also look a little different. From the provider’s perspective, one of the oft-cited drawbacks of virtual visits is the limited ability to measure vital signs, perform a physical exam or order point-of-care diagnostics. At-home diagnostics, wearable devices and remote patient monitoring tools allow providers to collect continuous clinical data that can be gathered asynchronously and quickly, resulting in a more comprehensive picture of a patient’s health. Further, platforms that use intelligent automation algorithms to organize data collected across the care continuum can parse these data streams to identify at-risk patients and then automate outreach and care management to follow clinical care pathways.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to reimagine healthcare using a modern suite of technology for patients, providers and staff that does away with outdated and inefficient processes. But we also have a responsibility to replace them with solutions that improve digital experiences by supporting patients before visits, automating repetitive workflows and parsing large amounts of data to support clinical decision-making.
Combining intelligent automation with virtual visits creates a powerful tool to efficiently manage patient populations and offer an experience that feels intuitive, while enabling healthcare systems to do more with less. By accelerating the digital transformation of healthcare today, we can position ourselves for a future of increased capacity, decreased overhead and improved quality.
Muthu Alagappan, M.D., is an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, a trained engineer and medical director at Notable Health, a healthcare experience automation company.