Bob Abrahamson, Chief Marketing Officer
It feels like we have come full circle. Maybe a spiral is a better analogy as we definitely are not in the same spot as we were before. And by before, I am referring to Q1 2020. I had just joined pCare. In addition to general onboarding, I was preparing for the launch of pCare Ambulatory – our cross-continuum solution created in partnership with Quil. We were getting ready for our launch announcement to coincide with HIMSS2020 when COVID hit our shores and interrupted our plans. We did launch that spring, but the world had changed.
Here we are two years later. People seem maxed out on behavior change as it pertains to COVID. Yet, it remains a reality as the pandemic becomes endemic. As I write this post, I am just recovering from a COVID infection. Having been vaccinated and boosted, my case was mild. Yet, 2 weeks after symptom onset I’m still battling a persistent cough. More annoying than debilitating. Infections seems to be spiking amongst colleagues in the east coast who have come to accept an eventual COVID infection as fait accompli. We are not in the same place for sure.
In some respects, circumstances have improved. Telehealth has emerged as an accepted and expected manner of receiving care. Although my prediction that 20% of office visits would be conducted via telemedicine was overly optimistic, telemedicine office visits are still 38 times greater than pre-pandemic levels. I believe this acceptance of telehealth has only served to accelerate wider adoption of digital health tools. From accessing care through expanding digital front doors to extending care via online tools, a new care paradigm is emerging. And we see a new technology backbone improving the experience for all stakeholders taking shape to support true value-based care that corresponds to patient preferences. Beyond simply capturing metrics associated with quality measures, we may be in a place to drive, measure, and reward better outcomes.
However, there is another side to the story of which we must be aware. For all the promise of technology, unequal access can further exacerbate health disparities via digital redlining. Additionally, COVID lockdowns exacerbated the self-imposed divides we have been creating over the past decade due in large part to how we as a society incorporated social media into the fabric of our lives. As Ezra Klein described in Why We are Polarized, humans are tribal animals and this can lead us to act against our better angels. It’s not rational, it’s emotional. It’s not science, it is politics. And it can get in the way of quality healthcare. From the seemingly illogical (anti-vaxxers), to the subjective (decline in patient experience in the wake of COVID as reported by Leapfrog) to the objectively wrong (rise in workplace violence against healthcare workers.)
So, we come full circle, or spiral, as we exit the pandemic phase of COVID. Health systems have been quickly maturing their cross-continuum and virtual care solutions by offering more flexible options for accessing hybrid care solutions to meet almost any consumer preference. Data management and analytics solutions have continued to mature and interoperability across systems continues to advance. The pieces are in place. When I was hit with COVID a few weeks back, a simple telehealth visit with my primary care doctor allowed me to review my treatment options and get meds ordered at the local pharmacy. This included taking a conservative approach to treatment facilitated in a low-cost setting which is foundational for Value-Based Care. (I am not covered under a value-based contract but the infrastructure to support such an arrangement is coming together– that is the point.)
But we can’t be complacent. Technology in not a panacea. If I need to see my doctor, that is an option – even if I have COVID. That is important for this baby boomer to know. And, in my situation, my provider is by no means cutting edge. The fact is I still have to deal with a somewhat antiquated phone system that can be frustrating. Even when I’m not feeling at the top of my game, I am sure to check myself when I get a live person on the phone who may not always be delivering the information I want to hear. Clear communication and information are foundational for effective patient engagement and care collaboration. I understand that. I also understand there is never an excuse for verbal abuse of staff. I know this as a patient and bring it to the table. My expectation, however, as a patient, is that the staff – even when under pressure – will not forget there is a patient not feeling well on the other end of the line. My experiences by and large have been positive. But it is incumbent on all stakeholders never to forget the human experience of care. In these extraordinary times we live in, as patient engagement professionals we have the opportunity and obligation to bring compassion to our care and our solutions; to keep the care of patients and families paramount while remaining committed to supporting the needs and addressing the vulnerabilities of the healthcare workers doing what they can to provide compassionate care . That is the only way we will be able to move our health system forward and realize the promise of value-based care.