Technology Is Helping Healthcare Teams Adapt and Make Changes that Will Outlast COVID-19

young man texting, female nurse on ipad, older doctor on laptop

The pandemic has changed life in so many ways. Because of this, it is natural to ask: Which of these changes are temporary and which are permanent? I found out that this question is on the mind of a lot of healthcare professionals when I sat down with a group of industry leaders recently for a virtual roundtable discussion. We talked about the impact of COVID-19 and the opportunities and challenges the industry is facing as it transitions to a new normal of technology solutions in healthcare. I shared a few takeaways from that roundtable discussion in a previous blog post.

Today, I want to follow up with a few more insights from that collaborative event and look at some of the ways our panel of healthcare leaders expect the technology solutions in healthcare to be permanently changed.

Healthcare organizations are hopeful that investments in new technologies will be useful during COVID-19 and provide long-lasting benefits.

Much of the focus of the roundtable discussion centered around technology. More specifically, we talked about the new role technology is playing — and will continue to play — in the delivery of care and the management of healthcare systems and practices. The meteoric rise of telehealth is just one of many examples. 

Here are a few of the changes the healthcare leaders on our panel said they expect to last beyond COVID-19, along with ideas about how technology solutions in healthcare can help teams adapt.

Checking Patients in for Appointments is Going Digital

Multiple professionals on our panel shared that the technology solutions in healthcare that they are now using have allowed them to change how they check patients in during in-person appointments. Now, healthcare organizations are messaging patients before they arrive and asking them to complete intake forms online, submit their insurance card digitally, and even pay co-payments in advance.

Healthcare practices may have initially moved to zero contact check-in to minimize risks for patients and staff during face-to-face appointments. However, this digitalization of patient check-in could become permanent.

Chuck Leider, Chief Informatics Officer at Houston ENT & Allergy, shared during the roundtable discussion that his practice saw productivity increase after switching to zero contact check-in. Increased productivity is a benefit that could give digital check-in real staying power.

Waiting Rooms are Evolving

Multiple panelists explained that their waiting rooms are much emptier these days because their practices are having patients wait outside or in their vehicles. The goal, of course, is to prevent potential COVID-19 exposures inside crowded waiting rooms. But, beyond mitigating COVID-19 risks, there are added benefits to making waiting rooms virtual.

Houston ENT & Allergy has noticed cost savings. Leider weighed in again and explained that they had planned facility expansions, but they’ve learned that large waiting areas aren’t a necessity. “Now, because of the virtual waiting room, we’re looking at saving a lot of money on our overhead,” said Leider.

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Another bonus, according to Leider, is that patients are happier. He’s received feedback that suggests patients are content sitting in their cars waiting “They’re happy. They are on the phone, they are being productive, they are working, they are making sales calls. Or, they’re listening to music, talking to their kids.” The point is, using technology solutions in healthcare makes it simple to communicate with patients and enables them to wait outside a clinic’s walls, boosts patient satisfaction. Another benefit that could permanently change waiting rooms in clinics and hospitals.

Some organizations have made sizable financial investments in order to provide virtual opportunities for patients. Dr. Edgar Chavez, CEO at Universal Community Health Center, explained that the patients his clinics serve do not always have access to technology. As a result, the clinics have had to find creative ways to bring concepts such as virtual waiting rooms and telehealth visits to fruition. They recently purchased iPads that patients can use while waiting outside or in their vehicle. Dr. Chavez also explained that the health center worked to extend wi-fi to the area outside of each of its clinics.

“We are beefing up our internet infrastructure. We are putting wi-fi outside of our clinics so people can actually drive up with their cars and have their visits there. Or, they can walk up to the clinic and we’ll give them an iPad, and they can be seen outside. Because our main goal is to keep our providers and staff safe, we are trying to minimize the number of people coming inside our clinic.”

Dr. Edgar Chavez, CEO at Universal Community Health Center

Data is Being Leveraged to Improve Telehealth

The use of data in healthcare is clearly nothing new. However, what is new is the way healthcare teams are beginning to use data to improve telehealth.

Many healthcare organizations didn’t have a reliable telehealth solution in place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. When the pandemic began, healthcare clinics and hospitals started scrambling to ensure they could use telehealth to continue seeing patients. Now that some time has passed, the shortcomings of some telehealth solutions have been exposed.  

Healthcare organizations are using technology to track the length of telehealth calls and make sure providers’ time isn’t used inefficiently. If data shows that telehealth calls are consistently running 20 or 25 minutes longer than they should because patients are having problems joining their appointments, that needs to be addressed. Otherwise, a physician may be wasting a lot of time waiting for patients who need help troubleshooting technology issues. In this case, data is needed to identify and correct efficiency issues.

Another panelist, Sri Bharadwaj, shared that his health system is using technology to monitor patients remotely, and then intervene with a telehealth appointment immediately when data shows there is an issue with a patient’s health metrics. For example, Sri, who is the VP of Digital Innovation at Franciscan Health, said that his health system uses patient generated health data to trigger telehealth “video visits at the flip of a coin based on blood pressure data or pulse oximeter data coming back” to them inside their system. Leveraging this data helps make telehealth more valuable and successful.

Final Thoughts

Beyond the points shared above, there were many other valuable takeaways from the roundtable discussion. I encourage you to take some time and watch the recording.

As the session was wrapping up, a few final thoughts were shared that I think help give perspective to the opportunities healthcare has moving forward.

  1. Panelist Sri Bharadwaj suggested that as telehealth and digital care continue to evolve, artificial “barriers to better healthcare across our states will kind of slowly disintegrate in some way, shape, or form, delivering a much more robust healthcare system for the nation.”
  2. Dr. Tashfeen Ekram added that so much more is possible now in terms of digital healthcare solutions and telehealth because “As a nation, we’re ready to embrace (at a certain level) more than we were before.” Dr. Ekram continued to point out that this is important because even if all the right legal regulations are put in place, real advancement wouldn’t happen without patient and provider readiness. “If the patients aren’t ready or the providers aren’t ready, that will be a no go.”

If you want to see more of the insights shared by our panel, watch the included recording of the roundtable discussion below. It was a great discussion and I appreciate the contributions from the healthcare leaders that joined me for the event. Until next time, stay well.

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