In 2020, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, healthcare providers across the country were pushed to rapidly adopt connected health technologies to support patients and sustain revenue streams. The results have been overwhelmingly positive: nearly 70% of physicians say they are more motivated to promote their connected health services due to positive experiences; and 90% of patients received care quality that met or exceeded their traditional interactions.
The potential benefits of connected health have been widely discussed by healthcare experts for many years and, while initial adoption may have been slower than expected, the past year provided a significant boost. Some of the benefits include:
- Care Access – Virtual care models can provide access to providers and healthcare services regardless of geography.
- Physician Flexibility – Likewise, providers have greater flexibility to schedule physicians and reduce burnout and stress using virtual models.
- Enhanced engagement – Connected health can make it easier for patients to engage in, manage their health and wellness, and interact with healthcare providers.
- Better coordination – Physicians and other caregivers can share patient data and coordinate patient care more effectively with digital health tools.
- Data-driven decision-making – Providers can base care decisions on comprehensive patient data in EHRs, rather than relying on patient accounts of current symptoms.
- Cost management – Care costs can be managed more effectively through connected health solutions, such as virtual visits and remote patient monitoring.
- Population health – Aggregate patient data sets can help providers, governments, and insurance companies identify broader health trends among patient populations to support population health and preventative care initiatives and to promote general wellness.
The use of connected health services, like telehealth, grew significantly from 2019 to 2020 – including a 50-100x increase in several areas, and 101x in Rhode Island. But, now that vaccine distribution is underway and many see light at the end of the tunnel, the question is, how can providers capitalize on the momentum they have built during the past year? Undoubtedly, some patient needs will be best served with in-person visits. But, how can providers keep those patients whose conditions are suitable – or even ideal – for connected health from reverting back to traditional care models? How can providers continue to leverage connected health to drive operational and clinical efficiencies to achieve the benefits connected health can deliver?
Maximize Data Analytics and Automation
Digital healthcare creates a tremendous amount of patient data that can be used to deliver positive patient outcomes. The entire healthcare community, including providers, pharmaceutical firms, and insurance carriers, can leverage connected health data, along with AI-driven analytics and process automation to improve care processes and operate more efficiently. One of the problems, though, is a majority of healthcare organizations are only using a small percentage (20% or less) of available data to drive their analytics and AI solutions, leaving much room for improvement.
Defined Value Proposition
With any new technology, adoption is largely dependent upon its value proposition. In order to continue building their connected health programs, providers must clearly define and explain their value both internally to physicians and staff, as well as externally to patients. This represents another opportunity, considering few healthcare organizations are actually looking at telehealth in the context of patient outcomes. By supporting connected health programs with proven value statements, providers can overcome physician and patient apprehension to drive adoption. It’s also very possible that different patient groups will have different value definitions, requiring different supporting evidence. For instance, younger generations may value convenience and may even be willing to pay more for digital care, while older generations may have a preference towards physicians with whom they’ve built trusted relationships to support their ongoing care.
In order for patients to be open to digital alternatives to traditional care models, they need to know they exist. Healthcare providers can’t expect patients to ask about them on their own; rather, they should launch ongoing communications campaigns to introduce their programs to patients, including their benefits and value. This can include delivering information and service updates through text messages, email campaigns, and patient portals, but should also include physicians promoting connected health during their interactions with patients. Because patients see their doctors as authorities on care, their recommendations can carry significant weight in patients’ willingness to try new care options.
Naturally, some patient interactions will revert back to traditional in-person visits when they can. For many, it will be a logical decision. Others, however, may simply base decisions on a desire to put everything related to the pandemic behind them, ignoring the benefits of connected health, even if they have had positive experiences. To continue to support the connected health services they implemented over the past year, providers can require a minimum number of virtual visits or other connected health engagements on a weekly or monthly basis. This will, at the very least, prevent widespread regression of connected health engagements and, instead, will continue to drive value from connected health technologies.
Expand Connected Health Programs
While some patient return to in-person care is expected – not every situation is ideal for connected health – providers can build on success and expand their connected health services. By adding new programs, they can introduce new patient populations to connected health and set the stage for even greater growth in the future.
Listen to Feedback
As providers were forced to adopt connected health strategies during the pandemic, for many patients, this was the only reasonable option for care. But, as circumstances continue to evolve and in-person visits become a feasible option, one of the tools providers have for enhancing their virtual care services is feedback from both patients and physicians. Surveying both groups can provide valuable information on how providers can improve what they have already implemented, so they can reinvest in their solutions and truly make connected health a successful, permanent part of their models.
Certainly, there are other driving forces at work, including regulatory reform supported by a growing number of agencies and organizations. Those activities, though, are only part of the path to success. Providers must take measures to protect the investments they’ve already made in connected health technologies and maximize their value. Connected health turned a corner in 2020, and it’s now up to providers to capitalize on the progress they’ve made.
To learn more about how connected health technologies can help deliver better patient outcomes, connect with us here.