Virtual care is here to stay, but providers need to make the experience more seamless

Though the Covid-19 pandemic helped unlock the potential of telehealth, the continuum of care delivery extends far beyond it. Moving forward, both in-person and virtual care will be a part of the patient journey, and providers must consider how best to deploy these services to alleviate patient pain points.

At a panel discussion organized by Reuters Events last week, executives from provider and vendor groups said data can help health systems answer questions about where to apply virtual care and in-person care in the patient journey.  It can also predict the care needs of the populations they serve and ease the patient experience.

The question is “are we looking at the continuum of care and then seeing where virtual care is able to play a big part and where in-person care is able to play a big part?” said Sunila Levi, vice president of digital healthcare platform strategy at Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, during the panel. “Where do we use [virtual care] to the benefit of the patient as well as of the provider.”

Data is the key here, as it can help highlight care patterns that need to be addressed. Mental health services, for example, saw a big uptick in demand during the pandemic, especially via telehealth, Levi said. Data can help health systems look ahead and predict the care needs of the populations they serve.

But analyses should not just be relegated to operational data, like clinical, claims and contact center interactions data.

“Those are critical, those are valuable, but when you add an experience lens on top of that to understand what the voice of the patient is, where are they experiencing friction, what is their intent — the combination of the experience lens plus the operational lens together yields powerful insights,” said Dave Pabley, a principal consultant at customer experience management company Clarabridge, during the discussion. Clarabridge also sponsored the event.

One way to gauge patient experience is to look at social media data. This publicly accessible information can give providers and vendors insight into how patients feel about their competitors or how they responded to a new product launch, Pabley said.

“There is a wealth of data that is available to help transform healthcare and improve the patient experience,” he added.

As providers drill down into data and implement new solutions, they need to ensure that patients are not being inundated with new technology and services.

“I think that you lose trust [if you inundate patients],” said David Fletcher, vice president of telemedicine at Danville, Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health System, at the virtual event. 

Geisinger surveyed its patient population on telemedicine use and found that though patients believed virtual care was easy to use and that they generally liked having the option, they were eager to see their doctor in person after the pandemic. So, providers need to explain to their patients why telemedicine in certain cases may be better for their specific case or circumstance.

“We really have to have a dialogue instead of dumping telemedicine on top of our patients and assuming ‘this is so much more convenient, so much better [for them]’,” Fletcher said.

Providers now have data that they didn’t have before, and they need to use it to explain the “why” behind the organization’s telemedicine strategy to both providers and patients, he added.

In the early months of the pandemic when so much about Covid-19 was unknown, providers did not have a choice but to use telemedicine. Now, there is a choice.

Instead of adopting blanket telehealth policies based on assumptions, providers can use data to target services and make the IT tweaks necessary to improve the patient experience, Fletcher said.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images