Reopening Healthcare Across the U.S.: A Roundtable Discussion

Recently, Luma Health hosted a panel of esteemed leaders across the healthcare industry for a virtual roundtable discussion about the industry’s COVID response and expectations for healthcare’s reopening. Not surprisingly, we spent a lot of time talking about telehealth.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this discussion. As the moderator of the meeting, I wanted to share some quick insights from our panelists, many of which are Luma Health customers. 

The clear consensus is that telehealth has not only been essential during the pandemic, but it will play an important role in the future for improving patient access.

For example, many of the panelists shared stories and examples that brought to life the dramatic increase in the use of telehealth since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Dr. Edgar Chavez, CEO at Universal Community Health Center, shared that early on in the pandemic his organization used Luma Health to contact patients and convert its entire schedule to virtual care over the course of a weekend. It was a rapid transition. 

Since then, the community health center has been working to dial back some of its virtual appointments a bit in order to reach the ultimate operational goal of 40 percent in-office appointments and 60 percent telehealth.

Dr. Medhavi Jogi, co-founder of Houston Thyroid and Endocrine Specialists, shared that he has been incorporating video and digital methods into his interactions with patients for a while. Still, his use of telehealth increased significantly following the COVID-19 outbreak. 

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Dr. Jogi’s clinic had been conducting about 20 to 30 percent of appointments via telehealth prior to the pandemic. Dr. Jogi explained that he is currently “not going back to the clinic very often,” and he is now eagerly seeing about 90 percent of his patients virtually.

The panelists’ experiences and greater reliance on telehealth are consistent with national trends. More than nine million Medicare beneficiaries used telemedicine services between mid-March and mid-June. On top of that, nearly $4 billion was billed nationally (outside of federal spending through Medicare) for telehealth visits during March and April — a striking increase over the $60 million that was billed during those two months in 2019.

Understanding Telehealth’s Staying Power

The panel agreed that there is an abundance of opportunity in telehealth, and that both patients and providers benefit from appointments going virtual. 

If you’re looking to improve your telehealth offering, this on-demand webinar shares some best practices.  

A recent survey found that 83 percent of patients expect to use telemedicine after the pandemic resides. What started out as a necessity for clinics’ survival, has turned into something more — an attractive, convenient, and effective way for patients to get the care they need.

While it is clear that telehealth isn’t just a fad, our panelists admitted that there is work to do to perfect telehealth for long-term use.

For example, panelist Marlena Kane pointed out that when it comes to telehealth, “There are multiple options” and some are “not working very well.” Kane, who is the Associate Administrator of Consumer Solutions & Access at Keck Medicine of USC, said that instead of trying to use many different telehealth platforms, organizations should find “one or two reliable platforms that work well.”

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Panelist Barbara Casey echoed Kane’s statements. Barbara is the CEO of Nectar Strategic Consulting. She noted that many efforts to adopt telehealth in March and April were rushed. She suggested that organizations “take a step back, look at the strategy, look at the enterprise scale of what you’re trying to do,” and then find one or two telehealth options that are “sustainable, scalable, and secure.”

Panelist Kathryn Howe, Director of Healthcare Digital Transformation at Cisco, added that the reliability of a telehealth solution is about more than just whether or not a video call works when a doctor and patient try to join a virtual exam room. In addition to the telehealth call, there are two other layers to telehealth that need to be optimized: the contact center and the patient engagement touchpoints. She suggested that for telehealth to be successful, these “three layers need to come together to create the whole telehealth delivery system.”

“The reliability of a telehealth solution is about more than just whether or not a video call works . . . there are two other layers to telehealth that need to be optimized to create a telehealth delivery system: the contact center and the patient engagement touchpoints.”

Kathryn Howe, Director of Healthcare Digital Transformation at Cisco

The discussion touched on a handful of other telehealth improvement opportunities — such as reimbursements, for example. However, even with the various shortcomings and the multiple fixes that were suggested, the panelists remained confident in telehealth’s potential.

While the overall conversation gravitated toward telehealth, other rising and innovative solutions were discussed that enable healthcare clinics to safely reopen for care. One example mentioned was creating a contactless waiting room. Watch for more on that discussion in a follow-up post.

In terms of telehealth, the roundtable discussion showed that healthcare organizations — from community health centers to specialty clinics to health systems — are successfully using telehealth more than ever before. And, with some fine tuning, healthcare leaders expect telehealth to become a more common and permanent offering.

I’ve included a recording of the roundtable discussion below so you can enjoy the full conversation. I hope you find it as beneficial as I did!  And, a huge thanks goes out to all of the healthcare leaders who joined me for the roundtable discussion. Stay well. 

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