September 17, 2021
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare leaders, systems, and organizations were forced to rapidly implement digital healthcare solutions to continue caring for patients. In fact, there was a 154 percent increase in telehealth visits in the U.S. in March 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. Two major consequences of this shift to digital care are clear; healthcare is now more convenient and accessible for patients, while also being a driver for business growth now and into the future.1
Most healthcare is delivered in-person with patients spending an average of 121 minutes on any one healthcare visit. The opportunity cost of this visit — or the amount a patient would earn working 121 minutes — is roughly $43 dollars.2
These losses for patients are critical.
Enter digital healthcare. Digital healthcare is technology that enables providers to care for patients using digital tools, such as phone, computer, tablet, and more. It also includes delivering healthcare through telehealth or telemedicine. These tools help eliminate time and space barriers for providers and patients with features that touch every part of the patient journey through digital intake, video conferencing, content, and provider automations, to name a few.
With technology, providers can leverage digital healthcare tools that enable patients to receive care when and where they need it most. Think of it as omni-channel care, which means that healthcare can be delivered through many platforms, technology systems, and solutions and is not limited to the binary models of in-person or video conference.
There has been a surge in demand for telemedicine, up 74 percent since 2020.4 With patient demand rising every day, healthcare organizations have the opportunity to grow with digital healthcare. One organization already taking action is Pyramid Healthcare Inc. (Pyramid), who leveraged OnCall’s platform to launch a new virtual healthcare division, Pyramid Online Counseling, in 2020.
Pyramid enhanced their brick and mortar operations to offer mental healthcare, addictions care, and behavioral treatment to patients across the U.S. and saw over a 900 percent quarterly growth in appointments scheduled overall. If approximately 24 percent of in-person care can be delivered digitally, then adding digital solutions to their healthcare delivery model is a no-brainer for healthcare leaders looking to scale their services and thrive in a digital world.
Bringing healthcare into our digital world means leveraging tools that allow care to happen anywhere, at any time, and in any way. Recognizing that care is continuous rather than episodic is essential when developing a digital care program. Patients have technology at their fingertips and they are using it to bank, shop, and connect with their healthcare providers in ways that are meaningful to them. This is a fundamental aspect of omni-channel care, and something to be cognizant of during the transition to digital healthcare.
There are several aspects of digital healthcare that affect providers and patients. In this report we review which key factors, tools, and features healthcare leaders should consider to create the best omni-channel digital care experience.
The digital competency of providers and administrators, also known as their “digital backbone,” is particularly important when launching an omni-channel care experience. Without the proper guidance, initial training, and ongoing support providers may not have the knowledge to accurately provide care using digital tools. Accuracy is essential in healthcare and without it, patient care may be compromised. In a survey from Accenture,
84 percent of healthcare leaders attest to the fact that providers– even those without highly technical skills– must first complete digital training at the individual level in order to provide the best care experience.6
Vendors like OnCall offer support packages that ensure providers are prepared and set up for success. It starts during workflow development and continues as organizations onboard more providers, increase patient touchpoints, and add digital tools to their care tool belts. A dedicated customer success team manages the onboarding process, including familiarizing staff with OnCall’s features and answering any technical questions prior to implementation.
While the provider experience starts with a “digital backbone,” the patient experience starts with a “digital front door.” We’ve established that digital healthcare has made care more accessible, but it’s the initial digital encounter that can either make or break a patient’s experience. With this in mind, it’s important for healthcare leaders to provide an accessible, intuitive entrance– a “digital front door”– to their omni-channel program.
To understand if their “digital front door” is effective, healthcare leaders can ask questions like: “Does my organization have an accessible way for patients to book appointments online?” and “Is my digital booking page easy to navigate?” By asking these questions and implementing the digital tools to address gaps in accessibility, leaders can proactively mitigate any challenges that might arise in patient care from the get-go.
OnCall Health’s client, Trafalgar Addictions Treatment Centers (Trafalgar), developed a successful process to ensure patient accessibility, competency, and readiness for digital healthcare. Once a patient provides digital informed consent after scheduling an appointment through their branded online booking page, Trafalgar tests the patient’s device viability, internet speed, and more. Trafalgar not only implemented a “digital front door” for patients with digital booking options, but they continue to stress-test patient accessibility throughout the onboarding process.
Shane Saltzman, CEO of Trafalgar, says “since accessibility is no longer a barrier to care, participation has increased and triple the amount of graduates are seeking individual virtual therapy services than in previous years.” Trafalgar has both increased patient accessibility and grown their business with digital healthcare.
“Since accessibility is no longer a barrier to care, participation has increased and triple the amount of graduates are seeking individual virtual therapy services than in previous years.”
CEO, Trafalgar Addictions Treatment Centers
Do you know how virtual care is impacting your organization?
Measuring the strength of your organization’s telehealth program is key to a successful long-term growth strategy. With this data you’ll not only be able to track the health of your “digital front door,” but provider adoption and utilization, appointments completed, and billing metrics on a provider and organization level.
Omni-channel care means caring for patients where they are, whether that be in-person, over the phone, through video conference, or other channels. By measuring how each digital interaction impacts an organization, healthcare leaders can see how their patient experience impacts their business and predict changes to meet patient demand. Perhaps your analytics show that providers are treating more patients in the evenings. By seeing this information in real-time, you can proactively make informed decisions and adjust provider schedules based on the needs of your patient and provider base. Adapting your care model to better serve patients and to align with their needs is an important step when launching a telehealth program.
Tracking the health of your organization’s program is important for your long term strategy; but, can providers use digital tools to track patient health outcomes to better understand patient health?
The goal of tracking patient health outcomes is two-fold; to understand the patient’s historical health and capture their day-to-day information, while also supporting proactive care decision making in the long-term. OnCall Health offers customized tools for providers to track the health of their patients day-to-day, through digital forms, files, and custom content, so they can monitor the micro-changes in their patient’s health. Capturing this data not only gives providers better insight into their patients, but can also help them proactively sense a patient’s shifting health so they can prepare personalized treatment plans. With a strong analytics and reporting tool you’ll be able to understand how healthcare affects your organization beyond its four walls, including how patients interact with your system, how providers engage, and how your program shows financial growth over time.8
Personalizing each patient’s care experience is perhaps the most significant value of omni-channel healthcare. With omni-channel care, care is fluid and based on what a patient needs at any given moment.
Personalizing the care experience empowers patients to have a hand in their healthcare decisions. This does not mean making healthcare decisions without provider insight and expertise, but it means enabling patients to track their health data, discuss outcomes with providers at any time and in any way, to ultimately help providers better understand a patient’s short and long term care needs.
Take OnCall’s client TelASK, for example. TelASK leverages OnCall to virtually care for patients with chronic health conditions, like patients with cardiovascular issues. Once a patient exits the hospital, TelASK continues to digitally monitor the patient’s health by tracking their day-to-day information through customized forms and content. Patients track data like activities completed, level of exhaustion, and more. TelASK flags any significant changes in the patient’s responses and immediately notifies the provider, so they can schedule an appointment with the patient to discuss their health. The patient can choose a virtual, in-person, instant message, or phone appointment. TelASK has truly built a predictive and personalized patient experience that leverages data, time and place, and provider expertise to deliver the best health outcomes to patients.
OnCall’s content management system also helps to personalize the care experience. Through this feature, providers can share custom content, such as videos, forms and files, or other documents. Trafalgar, mentioned previously, leverages OnCall’s content management system to administer their intensive virtual outpatient program. The program is patient-led with educational resources shared through OnCall, with an added weekly check-in with a provider through video or instant message.
Shane Saltzman attributes Trafalgar’s success to its ability to personalize care through OnCall. In fact, “Trafalgar went from having one group a week at each physical location, to actually offering three groups a day, five days a week, virtually.”
With personalized care, patients feel compelled to continue their healthcare journey with digital tools that make finding and receiving care more convenient and accessible.
Personalizing patient care is one way to turn a good digital care experience into a great digital care experience. After all, the right experience can turn patient acquisition into patient retention by making it into something that fits into patients’ lives.9 But it doesn’t start with customized content and individual programming. Developing a system that gives patients the power to decide when and where they want care is the basis of “people-powered healthcare.”
Healthcare leaders can start by asking patients how they want to experience digital healthcare? Do patients want an app? Do patients prefer providing payment details upfront? Keeping the patient at the forefront of every decision certainly affects an organization’s ROI in digital healthcare.
Moreso, healthcare leaders may ask providers what tools make providing care easy and seamless? This might include automation tools such as digital informed consent, appointment notifications, or automatic billing.10
By implementing solutions to help providers, healthcare leaders can alleviate pressure placed on providers so they can refocus on their mission of providing care.12
For example, OnCall enables providers to connect with patients virtually and take payment through one, all-in-one solution. Provider groups can also personalize and automate key aspects of their workflows, like automatically sending branded payment receipts after every appointment. Just as providers work together as a team for their patients, so should their technology work together to support them and their work.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare organizations were forced to leverage digital tools as a short-term solution to ensure continuity of care for patients. The benefits of this expansion are clear, but it’s not foolproof. In March 2020, healthcare leaders were rightfully more concerned about patient care than they were about the long-term effects of employing a variety of platforms and systems on their organizations, patients, and providers. However, as organizations continue to use technology to revolutionize and enhance the way they provide care, changes must be made to decentralize and liberate technology, patient data, and provider systems.
An API is an Application Programming Interface that enables different software applications to “talk to each other.” Simply put, an API connects software across an organization so data is shared between them. APIs help reduce operational inefficiencies especially as digital healthcare operations become more complex with more platforms and systems available. With an open API like the one offered by OnCall Health, data seamlessly flows from system to system to reduce administrative redundancies. This makes providers proactive, focused, and improves continuity of care across their organizations.
Learn about how APIs work, how they benefit telehealth, and what our PHIPA/HIPAA compliant API can do for your organization.
A provider who has access to a patient’s full health profile can use the data to optimize, predict, and personalize patient care. This is why decentralizing healthcare technology is so important. The goal is to ensure that healthcare IT systems– because healthcare organizations often implement more than one– can improve their ability to exchange, process and interpret shared health information between devices, applications, and systems. It also aims to ensure that providers can access the same patient data no matter the mode of healthcare delivery, whether it’s digital or in-person.
HealthIT Consultant recommends steps healthcare leaders can take to ensure interoperability excellence in their organization.15
100 percent of healthcare executives surveyed in a recent Accenture survey reported the COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented stress test for their organizations.17 It’s no wonder this is the case, as the pandemic forced healthcare leaders to rapidly implement new technology and systems. The shift to an omni-channel model was so swift and leaders are still trying to understand how to shape their organizations with new delivery models. There are still fundamental changes to care standards, policy, payment models, and more, that are required to fully embrace omni-channel healthcare.
Firstly, to challenge our socioeconomic differences so everyone can access digital healthcare services equally, our governments and healthcare systems need to invest in stronger IT infrastructure. This also means lowering telecommunications and device costs so people can easily purchase and use devices to access care.
We also need to develop a standardized method of educating not only healthcare providers, but medical students on the value of digital healthcare. This means a strong emphasis on rules and regulations for security, technology standards, and “webside manner”, to help ensure patients are receiving safe and quality digital healthcare. By building partnerships with healthcare providers, leaders can ensure the protocols they implement are based on emerging data and experience. But, beyond the standards, healthcare providers must have the appropriate skills and knowledge to effectively provide digital services. Policy can be introduced to ensure workforce capability upskilling to support digital healthcare.18
This model motivates healthcare providers to work together to provide longer-lasting, more meaningful care and build closer relationships with their patients.19
There are many considerations for healthcare organizations looking to champion omni-channel healthcare. Ensuring providers are set up for success, opening a “digital front door” for patients, and finding ways to personalize the care experience are just a few. Adjustments to policy are also necessary for organizations to “meet patients where they are.” By reimagining healthcare delivery and choosing technology that is predictive, decentralized, and people-powered, healthcare organizations and their providers can revolutionize how they provide care with a connected system powering their operations. After all, says TelASK’s President, Peter Fallis, “The case for omni-channel healthcare is mammoth and is a requirement for the future of healthcare.”
Finally, to transition to a fee for healthcare model instead of a fee for service model, governments need to build a regulated fee framework so digital healthcare is considered equal to in-person care. During the pandemic, governments temporarily offered payer codes so digital appointments could be billed in the same way in-person healthcare is. This temporary change is not good enough. To accept omni-channel healthcare as the new and expected standard, policy and decision makers need to develop a model that’s based on care quality rather than care quantity.
This needs to be combined with permanent billing codes so providers can bill for digital healthcare. Most providers currently charge based on individual services rendered, often ignoring patient outcomes to attract more business. Value-based care; however, is based on patient satisfaction and outcomes rather than services rendered.