For years now, people in healthcare information technology have been anticipating the day that healthcare providers would recognize the need to adapt flexible workflows—workflows that are more efficient and effective because they are developed to incorporate health information technology, as opposed to forcing technology to fit existing workflows.
That day has arrived.
Actually, it arrived a couple of months ago when the risks of spreading COVID-19 began to outweigh the comfort of doing “business as usual.” Almost overnight, a broad cross-section of healthcare providers overhauled their workflows and systems to begin offering telehealth appointments to patients—in primary care, in specialty care and even in urgent care. In fact, some 25 percent of visits immediately shifted online.
So, what are we learning from this experience? In my opinion, we’re finding that efficient care delivery methods such as telehealth will drive the evolution of healthcare toward value-based care much more quickly than regulations and incentives ever could.
Just look at what’s happening:
- Patient anecdotes reflect a sense of satisfaction. Patients report that telehealth interactions are convenient, beneficial and personal—and they trust that the virtual provider knows when to refer them for in-person care.
- Providers are seeing solutions to logistical challenges. We’ve heard from one provider who, pre-pandemic, needed to expand their primary care offices, but who now has plenty of space thanks to most routine visits shifting online. Similarly, Albany Med has been able to reduce wait times at its urgent care facilities by seeing patients online and only bringing in those who require in-person evaluation or treatment.
- Workflows and technology stacks are proving less rigid than assumed. New York State is allowing patients to give verbal consent for providers to use Hixny or one of our counterpart health information networks to gather their records from across the state. Providers are rapidly adapting to a range of video conferencing systems, most without access to over-their-shoulder IT support.
- Access to multisource patient information is critical. If the shift to telehealth has proven anything, it’s that the success of this episodic care model rests largely on the ability of providers to access information from the patient’s previous encounters—and for other providers to have access to data collected during telehealth interactions—to gain a complete view of the patient and deliver appropriate, high-quality care.
Ultimately, I believe we’re going to find that telehealth is here to stay. And not just from telehealth companies who only deliver care this way, but as an expectation for nearly all providers. The role it will take in advancing value-based care is murky but assured. That’s because quality is efficiency—and value-based care is dependent upon figuring out where energy and attention should be focused and focusing it there, just as providers have done with telehealth.
I understand that change is incredibly difficult, especially when we’re talking about changing the way providers do the work they’ve done for years. But, to paraphrase Neil Armstrong, this one small step for providers is one giant leap in the right direction for healthcare.