Telehealth: A Post COVID-19 Reality?

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    Scroll to Top

    As investment into telehealth grows alongside the consumer favourability of the service, a new analysis indicates telehealth appointments use has increased 38X from the pre-COVID-19 baseline. In turn, with more people beginning to understand that the basis of any good health outcomes are only possible when clinicians and patients communicate clearly and understand one another.

    Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth usage surged as consumers and providers sought ways to safely access and deliver healthcare. In April 2020, overall telehealth utilization for office visits and outpatient care was 78 times higher than in February 2020 (Figure One).

    The increase of virtual health was evidentially borne out of necessity brought on by the pandemic. This method has been generally accepted by the consumers with an increased willingness to engage in the telehealth service. Furthermore, the increased provider willingness to use telehealth as well as the regulatory changes enabling greater access and reimbursement.

    Alongside the advancement of technology brings a wealth of opportunities to improve the experience that clinicians and patients have before, during and after their interactions. The benefits of this flow onto the caregivers and patients’ families too.

    ‘During the tragedy of the pandemic, telehealth appointments offered a bridge to care. A chance to reinvent virtual and hybrid virtual/in-person care models, with a goal of improved healthcare access, outcomes, and affordability (Bestsennyy, Harris, Rost and Gilbert, 2021).

    Therefore, engaging the right strategy and successful execution, virtual health allows providers the chance to keep people better informed, connected and understood. Consequently, minimising inconvenience and empowering everyone to shape their own personalised healthcare experience’ (Hardy, Denison and Hann, 2021).

    Figure One

    Reinventing what Healthcare means.

    Telehealth appointment programs overcome physical barriers to provide patients and caregivers access to convenient medical care. However, when integrating this model of care from theory into practice, it is not as simple as taking the current physical delivery models and replicating them to a virtual environment. A shift in mindset is also required. In addition, understanding and taking into consideration the perspective and experience of those engaging in the service, including the clinicians is imperative when designing this model of care and delivery of healthcare.

    Instead of telling patients and the workforce how healthcare is delivered, we need to ask consumers and clinicians what they need and how they can best engage with it. Telehealth appointments offer increased flexibility with no impact on service. 

    Above all, this logic applies across the spectrum of private and public health. This includes primary care to acute care, from aged care to general practice, and everything in between.

    The improvement of Telehealth

    Meanwhile, healthcare providers need the courage to trial new solutions, monitor performance, and make changes. A recent study outlined that there are four key drivers of positive patient experience and loyalty. These drivers include “confidence in the care provider, coordination of care, and responsiveness to patient concerns, listening, and courtesy (Millstein and Kindt, 2020). Furthermore, evidence shows that reimagined care coordination, consumer responsiveness and health staff teaming are effective ways to optimise consumer experience virtually (Millstein and Kindt, 2020)

    Virtual Health

    With virtual health being something that consumers and clinics opt into and is not a requirement, therefore it is important that the virtual experiences are to be exceptional. Otherwise, this mode of care will not be accepted as common practice by both the clinicians and consumers. The virtual delivery must compare favourably to traditional delivery modes, this includes being comfortable and intuitive. Subsequently, if it lacks in these fields, then clinicians will not recommend it and patients will not opt for it. Above all, there needs to be an obvious and immediate value of virtual healthcare.

    Telehealth paves the way for a new type of health care delivery

    Organisations now have a wealth of data to assess the maturity and efficacy of their virtual healthcare offering. As a result of this, the gap will further close between healthcare providers and patients. Therefore, this offering provides patients in remote locations, in lockdown, or time-sensitive matters to receive the care they need. 

    The intention of Telehealth appointments is not to replace every trip to the doctor’s office. Instead, they are a good option for minor, temporary problems such as cold and flu, sinusitis or a sore throat. Virtual visits are also useful in chronic disease management, offering a means for quick consultations without the need for travelling. 

    Viewed through the lens of patient and clinician needs, virtual health might:
    • Only require patients to recount their health history (eg issues/symptoms/story) once – at the beginning of their care journey.
    • Augment clinicians’ capacity and capability to provide high quality and safe care e.g. capture patient data and symptoms remotely, before their initial consultation, to allow clinicians to prepare in advance.
    • Provide accessible evidence-based care without compromising the patient experience.
    • Support patients and carers with their lived experience e.g. providing tailored treatment for individuals living with mental illness.
    • Create better evidence-based self-care solutions to empower consumers to take a more active role in managing their health including prevention and treatment and overall health literacy.
    • Use past patient experience data and insights, with consent, to continually improve healthcare plans and achieve better outcomes.

    (Hardy, Denison and Hann, 2021).

    Virtual Health Patient Expectations

    The Lasting Impact

    There are numerous benefits of virtual care to meet the demand for healthcare globally. The convenience of care, increased access, improved worker productivity from not having to take time off to travel to appointments, decreased costs, and clinician time savings to name a few.

    Moreover, to thrive in the future, organisations must ensure that virtual health evolves in line with the needs and expectations of clinicians and patients.

    In short, trust and engagement for this service delivery will only grow if the user experience is consistently exceptional. Subsequently, outcomes will then flow on from that in the form of quality and safety, efficiency and cost – regardless of the maturity of an organisation’s virtual health capability. Such is the power and potential of an experience-led approach. 

    Above all, patients that engage in a virtual health service have an expectation of excellence and this is irrespective of how long the practice has provided this service.

    Of course, there is one thing that clinicians, patients and carers all share in common: they are time poor. For this reason, flexibility is an essential feature of any experience-led virtual health solution. When designing care models and automating processes, an organisation must ensure the service does not disrupt a patient’s day-to-day life. Likewise, the service should meet the patient’s needs in a way that meets their clinical care needs and in addition, also meeting the needs of clinicians and other users of the service. For example, medical appointment solutions need to include features such as scheduling, booking, and notifications for patients; plus real-time access and visibility for clinicians.