At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased patient volume and social distancing guidelines necessitated a swift ramp-up of digital strategies for many health organizations. “Health systems almost overnight had to stand up a full virtual care offering,” said Neil Patel, president of Healthbox, “because the brick-and-mortar care-delivery models that they had existed on for forever were no longer going to work.” 

Now, as the dust begins to settle, and several months of data and practical experience can be assessed, three digital strategies are coming to the fore in the fight against COVID-19. 

Telemedicine

According to the CDC, “While telehealth technology and its use are not new, widespread adoption among HCP and patients beyond simple telephone correspondence has been relatively slow.” COVID-19 has changed that, with telemedicine adoption rising sharply during the pandemic. Forrester now predicts that virtual visits will reach 1 billion in 2020, and CVS Health’s 2020 Path to Better Health Study found that the use of telemedicine was up 14% among consumers and 18% among providers compared to 2019. 

In a series of recent DocASAP-moderated webinars, healthcare leaders spoke about the challenges presented by this sudden surge in demand—and the long-term opportunities it’s uncovered.

“We’ve trained over 300 providers in a week and a half time to get them up and running to offer video services for their patients,” said Amber Allen, Executive Director, Primary Care, Innovation, and Quality at Prevea Health. “We hope this is something we can continue to offer beyond the pandemic. It is a wonderful service for patients and they have appreciated and adapted to it quite quickly.”

A subsequent webinar featuring Allen’s Prevea Health colleague, CEO Dr. Ashok Rai, may offer one explanation for this quick adaptation: While scheduling appointments with some Prevea providers previously required a phone call during office hours, the organization has embraced online appointment scheduling. According to Rai, this has made the process “super easy” and “omnipresent” for patients.

Dr. David Nash, Founding Emeritus of Jefferson College of Population Health, says his organization is conducting roughly 20,000 online visits each week. In addition to decreasing patient exposure to the coronavirus and increasing access for marginalized populations, Nash believes this surge in telemedicine will spark even bigger changes. The industry is witnessing, according to Nash, a “movement to get care out of the super expensive four walls of the hospital…and into the home where it’s safer.” 

Remote Patient Monitoring

A distinct facet of telemedicine, remote patient monitoring (RPM) accounts for part of the estimated $250B in current healthcare spending that, according to a recent McKinsey report, could be virtualized. Using non-invasive digital tools to monitor blood pressure, temperature, pulmonary function, or other physiological data, RPM allows patients to recover at home—while being observed by trained medical staff. 

According to a recent article in HealthTech, “By supporting proactive managed care—rather than responding to a preventable issue or waiting months for a follow-up visit—RPM is designed to curb readmissions. This not only benefits patients but also frees up busy staff to focus on new cases.” Given the influx of patients caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the notoriously unpredictable nature of the disease itself, RPM is particularly well-suited to the current healthcare landscape. 

In response, the healthcare industry has launched a spate of RPM-centered strategies, with notable efforts from Cleveland Clinic, OSF HealthCare, and M Health Fairview—among many others.

Digital Screening Tools

By engaging individuals before they enter the care setting, digital screening tools help limit the spread of the coronavirus and allow providers to focus on the cases where they’re most needed. 

For example, Apple’s COVID-19 app and website guide users through a series of questions about coronavirus risk factors, exposure, and symptoms. Based on their answers, they receive CDC recommendations on next steps, including social distancing and self-isolating guidelines, how to monitor symptoms, whether or not a test is recommended, and when to contact a medical provider. 

And while many screening tools are offered by third parties, like Apple, they can also be deployed directly under the auspices of health systems. Embedded on a health system’s website, Verily COVID-19 Pathfinder provides verified information about COVID-19, triages patients based on their symptoms and severity, and prescribes a course of action based on their inputs. 

In Closing: Hastening the Future

It’s important to note that, even before the pandemic, digital health had been a stated priority for many health organizations—as well as the focus of vigorous outside investment. Per a recent Rock Health report, U.S. digital health companies raised $3.1 billion in Q1 of 2020—more than 1.5 times the total of any previous first quarter. In essence, COVID-19 is merely hastening what was already seen by many in the industry as an inevitable future. 

According to Shannon Hubler, Chief Operating Officer of South Bend Clinic, “Patients are becoming more consumer-driven, and we hear often that they want an Amazon-like experience.” With this in mind, it’s increasingly clear that without robust digital strategies, health organizations have little hope of remaining competitive during the current pandemic—or after it.

Next Steps

The recent surge in telemedicine is changing the nature of patient access and care delivery. Download our free ebook “The Rise of Telemedicine Virtual Care” to learn:

  • Why telemedicine began booming during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • How it is impacting patient access and engagement
  • Recommendations for how healthcare organizations can optimize their virtual care channels in the new normal 

Access the ebook here.

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