While telehealth and connected health aren’t new, their impact hasn’t been as profound as their proponents may have anticipated. Despite improved technology, better connectivity, and general dependence on digital apps and services, just a year ago, fewer than 10% of patients in the U.S. had used telehealth and most weren’t even aware of it as an option or didn’t have access to telehealth services.
That’s despite increasing attention being given to the potential benefits of connected health, including improving patient outcomes, reducing emergency department visits and the length of in-patient stays, improving chronic disease care, providing greater access to care services, and more.
But things have changed quickly this year, driven primarily by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for providers to deliver and patients to receive healthcare safely. By the end of the year, the total number of telehealth visits is expected to surpass one billion.
Does that mean connected health is here to stay? The answer, when considering provider sentiment and expectations, is yes. Perhaps most importantly, providers are increasingly seeing connected health as part of their future, as a way to either replace or complement in-person care, depending on individual patient needs.
- In a post-pandemic world, two-thirds of providers believe they will be using telehealth five times as much as they did prior to 2020. More than a third think it will be a tenfold increase or more.
- More than half of providers (57%) view telehealth more favorably than they did previously, and 64% are more comfortable using it.
In addition, several groups have been strongly urging increased regulation to support the use of connected health services to make it easier for patients, providers, and payers to use them.
Even though usage has increased out of necessity, the best way for providers to ensure continued interest in their connected health services is to continue to improve their practices, adopt the right technology and systems to advance their connected health strategies, increase physician and staff education to make sure they know how to effectively use their new tools, and make sure patients are informed about what connected health services are available.
Create a patient-friendly digital portal that clearly identifies not only what connected health services are available, but also how they benefit patients and how patients can use them. Take time to evaluate what has worked well and can easily be translated into permanent services, and what services may need to be adjusted to deliver maximum benefit to both patients and the practice. In particular, look at ways connected health can simplify tasks that often take too much time, like scheduling and patient data collection.
Many providers rapidly launched or expanded connected health services during the pandemic and, while some were able to do it very successfully, others faced challenges. In particular, many healthcare workers say they spend more time updating patient records than they do actually helping patients, while others reported system incompatibility with mobile devices and general device or system failure on a regular basis. Providers should take the time to assess their solutions to ensure their investments are capable of supporting their connected health strategies and make adjustments as necessary to make it easier for physicians and staff to treat patients.
Appropriate training is key to any technology investment. Providers should spend time creating training and education protocols for their connected health solutions to ensure users understand their benefits and are able to use them effectively.
Consider your patient population. Determine which patients can benefit most from connected health services based on geography, conditions, or other factors, and focus on them first to reduce the burden on office staff. For instance, patients with long commutes or working parents may find telehealth much more convenient than office visits. Or, chronic disease patients may be open to remote patient monitoring as an alternative to repeated office visits.
It’s also important to monitor success and value on a regular basis to understand how connected health is improving results, where adjustments may need to be made, and how well those adjustments are improving results. This includes data-driven analyses of delivered services and patients treated as well as their outcomes but also communicating with staff and patients to understand their satisfaction levels or pain points with connected health.
As existing connected health services show consistently positive results, providers should have strategic roadmaps in place for expanding their services, whether that includes adding new services, opening up to new patient populations, or simply increasing the volume of connected health patients. This may also require revisiting technology planning and training to ensure their infrastructure can support future phases and staff are appropriately prepared.
The massive increase in connected health usage was driven by a global pandemic and, while providers have increasingly become more open to digital care models, patients, too, have seen the value. In fact, 83% of patients say telehealth will remain part of their healthcare environment in a post-pandemic world. So, while not all patients and not all healthcare needs will be appropriate for connected health, the message from patients and providers alike is clear – the world has changed, and healthcare delivery with it – connected health is here to stay.