Brian Yarnell, CEO BlueStream Health
Virtual Care is making the transition from an accepted care modality to an expected care modality. It is now part of the continuum and when it makes sense for the patient, the provider, the medical situation – it is fast becoming table stakes for health care organizations to provide a non in-person encounter. Virtual care = care.
Best practices are emerging. A one-size fits all solution will not work. Your virtual care solution must be patient-centric – single click access without app downloading and the ability to re-establish a connection if a call is dropped. Your virtual care solution must be provider friendly; again, one click access from the EHR with the ability to easily conference in interpreters or specialists and asynchronously message back to the patient. Your virtual care solution must be payer friendly and keep encounters with in-network providers. There are a lot of moving parts. From our work with leading provider organizations including the largest public health hospital in New York City, we’ve landed on six critical steps for creating a best-in-class virtual care solution.
- Understand Your Patients – This sounds obvious, but the key is to really drill down into your patients to get a better understanding of their demographics, why they seek care with your providers, their comfort level with different technologies. Do you have a firm grasp of the patient journey for different care pathways and an understanding of where virtual care would best fit in? You can consider surveying your patients or reaching out to a Patient and Family Advisory Council to get their input on what your patient community is looking for in virtual health. The information you collect can help you decide on the feature set you want to initially rollout with and what segments of the both the patient and provider population you want to begin with.
- Evaluate the Total Cost of Ownership. As with any significant venture, you want to conduct your due diligence. When spinning up a virtual care solution, consider the software costs including implementation, monthly SaaS charges, and any EHR integration fees. There are also technology costs to consider including telecommunication upgrades and new hardware such as webcams or tablets. Finally, there are the staffing impacts including the clinical staff that you will want to interact with patients on the new platform and the support staff needed to ensure the system is available when you need it.
- Select Use Cases to Start – Because it can be expensive to staff a virtual care solution, it’s important to uncover quick wins that will generate revenue right away. Look for ways you can optimize your current financial models. One possibility is offering virtual ambulatory visits that can help pay for other more nuanced virtual care. Finally, think about how to build a value-based care model moving forward. Various use cases can include on-demand telemedicine from a website or patient portal, Urgent Care on Demand as a way to control patient flow into the ED, telepsychiatry from an ED Kiosk to mitigate staffing shortages.
- Get the Right Team in Place – Collaboration drives optimal experience for all stakeholder in any healthcare situation and that definitely applies to successful virtual care implementations. Your success will be that much more certain when you bring together clinicians, patient engagement and experience specialists, data analysts, and technical developers to share their input on what they need for success. Furthermore, a solid project manager to drive the initiative forward can ensure all parties continue to work toward the shared goal of improved patient care and engagement.
- Choose a Technology Partner that Adapts to You, not Vice Versa – Being trapped in a one-size-fits-all solution will only frustrate your IT and clinical staff and hurt patient engagement. Don’t waste time trying to adjust your workflows to technology—choose a technical solution that adjusts with you. Look for a partner that can support multiple modalities so you can engage patients where they are and how they want to be involved. You want to be sure the technology is flexible so you can adapt your model and grow from simple to complex. A good rule of thumb is to ask about their open APIs to ensure you will be able to embed virtual care across all patient touchpoints. And finally, make sure you are not opening the door to a future competitor who may try to drive virtual care encounters to their own staff providers.
- Measure Results – Plan to measure the results of your virtual care solution to determine where you can adjust to better meet the needs of your staff and patients. Decide on what provider utilization metrics to monitor to evaluate if you have the right mix of clinicians and support staff available and if they are using their time efficiently and in a manner to justify the expense. On the consumer side, Net Promoter scores could reveal how virtual care may or may not be driving referrals to your facilities while usage statistics could reveal to which patient segments you would be best to promote virtual care services.
Starting before the pandemic and validated over the past 2 years, the six steps outlined above provide a solid framework for implementing a virtual care solution that delivers optimal care to patients while supporting provider efficiency and satisfaction with care delivery. Additionally, when done right, you are also future proofing your solution by allowing it to both scale and flex to emerging technologies. For the virtual care experience to be simple and frictionless for all stakeholders, a lot of planning and preparation needs to go into developing the solution. This was the approach we utilized when we partnered with pCare to help hospital clients build a virtual care solution around in-room telepresence as described here. Following the six steps outlined above will prove very helpful in your journey.