Digital technologies play an important role in meeting the challenges of the post-pandemic world. Top agenda items for health systems moving out of the pandemic involve developing virtual care models, methods for coping with the financial aftermath, and crisis management lessons learned.
Developing Virtual Care
Covid-19 caused businesses and health systems to pivot operations to provide care and keep revenue coming in. One pivot involved providing telehealth visits which provided a safe way to maintain outpatient care. Telehealth has been increasing in popularity and utilization.
According to Glaser et al. (2020), many providers saw their telehealth visit volume increase by a factor of 50 to 175 per day or at the most, weeks.1 Providers quickly glued together operational workarounds built with digital tools robust enough to get things moving. Many patients and providers developed a comfortability with the telehealth model of care via the technology.
Health systems need to explore and build a solid, permanent solution that includes organizational, financial, clinical, and non-clinical components combined with policies, procedures, and new processes. In addition, they need to integrate telehealth technology with the electronic health record, better define clinical protocols for telehealth visits, figure out the coding and billing pieces to obtain proper reimbursement, and revamp hospital and physician practice processes to support telehealth workflow. For example, is any special equipment required? What does a virtual waiting room look like? Is it appropriate only for certain ailments and situations?
Virtual care, that offers care such as remote monitoring for those with chronic diseases or provides access to a nursing home patient who needs a specialist consult, but has difficulty being transported, can provide a bridge, and help manage patient care as the patient moves through the continuum of settings and services.
The pandemic has increased reliance on digital technologies for day-to-day activities. Remote workers use tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Amazon delivers goods and supplies. Food and grocery delivery services such as Instacart or Hello Fresh deliver wholesome food right to your door. Banks have pivoted to online platforms where you can deposit checks with the camera on your smartphone, saving you time and a trip to the bank.
Patients will expect their digital health experiences to provide the same level of quality and ease of use.
Health systems will need to beef up their efforts and provide a seamless gateway to digitize tools as patient self-advocacy becomes ingrained in setting up appointments and navigating the health system, including paying a bill, finding a provider, finding answers to health questions, and renewing a medication.2 (Glaser et al., 2020)
Many health systems offer patient portals; however, access, set up, and functionality of some are still subpar and often must be improved.
Coping with the Financial Aspect of the Pandemic
According to Glaser et al. (2020), between March 1 and June 30, hospitals and health systems lost an estimated $202.6 billion because of forgone revenue and increased Covid-19 related costs.3
To address their revenue challenges, many health systems will expedite their movement to a value-based care model and move away from volume-based reimbursement and embrace the capitation reimbursement model.4(Glaser et al., 2020). It comes with some additional risks, but it proves to be more predictable.
A more permanent investment in digital health tools will help achieve capitation:
- Digital Analytics and Artificial Intelligence – trending
- Support for care managers
- Remote patient monitoring
- More robust patient portals
- Patient chronic disease registries – to ensure the disease is well managed across a population.
Moreover, health systems will continue to look for ways to reduce costs and tighten budgets. Identifying paper-based processes that still exist or deciphering any challenges with the current digital process can help prioritize actions.5 (Nivala, 2022)
Authors Glaser et al. (2020), highlight that during the pandemic, many health systems discovered shortcomings in their analytics capabilities, data quality was uneven, analyses took too long, and predictive models were not sufficiently comprehensive. Training on using the digital tools and data for managers and clinicians was often insufficient. As health systems pivot to a new way of operating, they will seek out remedies.6
Crisis Management Lessons Learned
Health systems had to drastically increase the speed of decision-making to contend with challenges such as shortages of personal protective equipment, creating creative solutions for the high utilization of beds, especially intensive care unit beds, and safety protocols regarding patients, providers, and staff. New tools were implemented on the fly for providing virtual delivery of care through means such as telework, chat bots for responding to patient’s health questions, robotics, and coordination of care.
The pandemic has accelerated the use of digital tools. Prior to the pandemic, most hospitals and health systems had initiatives and were on track to pursue these tools, implement applications that support value-based care, and reduce costs of care delivery. The time frame for accomplishing these initiatives is now significantly compressed as health systems are now able to accomplish in 1-3 years as they were in 7-10 years.7 (Glaser et al., 2020)
Covid-19 has forced the hand of clinicians, non-clinicians, and healthcare leaders to move faster, work smarter, and have a more focused approach to problem-solving.
Using digital health solutions and advanced technologies, health systems will operate with greater efficiency, financial viability, and much improved outcomes.
Glazer, John, et al. “What the Pandemic Means for Health Care’s Digital Transformation.” Harvard Business Review, 4 Dec. 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/12/what-the-pandemic-means-for-health-cares-digital-transformation.
Nivala, Antti. “Council Post: Intelligent Information Management Can Solve Return-to-Work Challenges Post-Pandemic.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 14 Feb. 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2022/02/11/intelligent-information-management-can-solve-return-to-work-challenges-post-pandemic/?sh=311b4651621b.