What a difference two years makes.
Prior to the pandemic, telehealth visits ─ delivering patient-provider visits virtually ─ was an afterthought in the care continuum — ill-regarded and little-used beyond patients in rural areas who had few care choices. Virtual visits comprised less than 1%of all outpatient visits. Private insurers generally follow guidelines from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which allowed telehealth in only limited circumstances and paid at 30% below in-office reimbursement rates.
The Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker also found virtual outpatient visits skyrocketed to 13% of all healthcare visits during the worst of the pandemic shutdowns, before settling to 8% of all virtual visits, which represents a 700% increase against the baseline. Federal and private payers have taken notice of the potential of virtual visits to supplement in-person visits to monitor chronic conditions or comorbidities, triage patients, and provide another viable method for providers and patients to interact.
But the utility and value of digital healthcare platforms vary widely, which can lead to patient and provider frustration. Providers must embrace virtual visits as part of their consumer-facing digital offerings that empower patients and give healthcare staff more time back in their days. Such care must foster meaningful conversations without sacrificing user experience or privacy.
Consumers and providers want personalized choices
Remote visits earn strong satisfaction scores from both providers and patients who want them to continue. More than three-quarters of consumers expect telehealth to remain an option when they require healthcare. In another survey, two-thirds of physicians indicate that providing virtual-only or hybrid care would best fit their lifestyle needs — deemed an easy way to keep clinicians from burning out.
Even if most consumers were driven to digital channels initially because of the pandemic, the majority of those who continue using those channels will do so for convenience. Convenience is king. Patients want the flexibility and comfort of 24/7 virtual self-service options that extend beyond a medical practice’s telehealth visits during normal working hours.
As provider organizations expand their digital investments, the need for care continuity and expanded services beyond virtual visits is vital to address community healthcare challenges. E-visits and other digital care offerings must integrate with any vendor-agnostic electronic health record (EHR) and work across mobile devices seamlessly. The captured digital data can help reduce fragmentation across disparate providers and care settings.
Virtual visits are now the norm
Nearly 70% of physicians responding to an American Medical Association (AMA) survey on telehealth use indicated interest in continuing to provide virtual visits.
Telehealth use is perceived to be more relevant in certain practices areas such as substance abuse and mental health. A survey of nearly 900 mental health, primary care, and specialty care physicians in the Department of Veterans Affairs New England Healthcare System (VANEHS) showed highest usage among mental health practitioners, who also rated the quality of video care as high.
Clinicians in the other groups were more likely to admit challenges with using video because of the need for a video-enabled device, internet connectivity, and experience navigating a video telehealth platform.
“However, emerging evidence suggests that compared with phone visits, video visits may be more clinically effective and preferred by patients,” the study stated.
Selecting the right telehealth solution is paramount
The key to wider adoption of telehealth and greater satisfaction with virtual visits will be having the right artificial intelligence (AI) technology that reduces barriers to use. Patients prefer to use their smartphones, which are owned by 85% of Americans, reported Pew Research.
According to Danielle Wilson, M.S., Assistant Vice President of Digital Transformation, Virtua Health, most people are unwilling to download an additional on-demand app or have password access to yet another patient portal. They either prefer access to virtual services directly within text messaging or through a web browser featuring the look and feel of an app. The patient virtual visit has become an accepted integral part of their personalized healthcare experience.
QliqSOFT’s Quincy solution makes it easy and fast for patients to initiate an AI conversation. Engagement with a chatbot begins with a provider-originated secure link delivered via SMS text message or email. The chatbot activates connecting patients or their caregivers with a pre-determined conversation designed to intuitively navigate them to the appropriate outcome. This conversation can take the form of a scripted routine encounter that can be escalated to a live text-based or video interaction with a healthcare professional.
All chatbot encounters, which support more than 250 languages, along with Quincy’s other self-serve tools are recorded to the patient’s EHR.
“Our chatbots are short, sweet and to the point. The virtual tool also gives our staff the opportunity to immediately reach out to that patient if we notice they are struggling during initial engagement. The chatbot is designed like a hybrid model where patients don't feel deserted on an island because they are in a feedback loop,” added Wilson.
“Though patients participate in AI conversations, we are literally a fingertip away. We can quickly assist whether they're filling out paperwork and have questions, or if they need help along the way accessing the right clinicians, information and resources relevant to their medical condition.”
Providing virtual care is no longer optional for providers and practices that want to keep pace with patient expectations and maintain high patient satisfaction scores. But providers must choose an easy-to-use, intuitive platform that provides seamless connectivity benefiting both their healthcare workers and patients. By all accounts, telehealth’s exponential growth isn’t slowing.
As the Senior Solutions Specialist and resident workflow digitization expert, Jeff leads the charge in designing custom solutions that solve real-world challenges for our clients. Before QliqSOFT, Jeff worked in the healthcare industry for over 20 years, including stints at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Siemens Healthineers, and Connexall.
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