Bob Abrahamson, Chief Marketing Officer
I just read a really interesting article in The Atlantic, How Public Health Took Part in Its Own Downfall. It describes that after the discovery of infectious diseases and development of germ theory in the late 19th century, the field of public health “moved away from the idea that social reforms were a necessary part of preventing disease and willingly silenced its own political voice. By swimming along with the changing currents of American ideology, it drowned many of the qualities that made it most effective.” With the increased attention that the social determinants of health have been receiving and more efforts to connect health care organizations (hospitals) with community-based organizations (social services) in the provision of care, perhaps balance between the science and the social will be restored in the discipline of public health.
As is often the case, this got me thinking about the state and practice of Patient Engagement.
Virtual Care is Care but a Video Visit Does Not Equal a Face-to-Face Consult
After 18 months of living with COVID, hybrid care – a mix of in-person and virtual care is emerging as the new norm. Virtual care made possible by amazing digital technology definitely brings convenience and, in many cases, lower costs to care. That is why multiple health plans are announcing virtual-first models. As the hybrid model becomes more common, people will come to view virtual care simply as care.
The benefits of virtual care, both synchronous and asynchronous, cannot be understated for both patients and providers. Telemedicine encounters for simple conditions can save time and money for working families. Remote patient monitoring of chronic conditions creates expansive opportunities for clinicians to develop pathways for monitoring and consulting with patients in a manner that takes into consideration the provider’s workload obligations, the patient’s preferences, and disease acuity.
However, in my opinion, it is important not to become overly reliant on the convenience that technology can provide. It’s only hybrid care if we continue to find the occasion to meet face-to-face. Even when a virtual encounter may be all that is “clinically” required, it may not have the necessary impact and drive the optimal outcome. Email may have been the “killer app” for business, but it can be very discouraging when you get an email from a colleague who is avoiding a conversation. Following the path of least resistance may allow the person to check the task box. But at the end of the day, time is being wasted as the team is not truly moving toward the end goal.
It’s not that I’ve heard of similar situations in the care realm. But when time is tight, and in the face of growing staff shortages, I can see where it may seem easier to send a message or jump on a quick video call. Conversely, patients may want to avail themselves of a virtual encounter to avoid or expedite what they anticipate will be an uncomfortable visit.
Yet, there will be times when face-to-face is needed. And it is not necessarily because of a life-threatening situation or the need to deliver bad news. Sometimes building rapport requires a human connection. The foundation of our medical system is based on the laying of hands; it is a physical exam after all. As some doctors still rely on touch to drive their diagnosis even with the myriad of lab tests available, the foundation for impactful patient engagement and care collaboration is the human connection.
Working for a healthcare technology company focused on patient engagement solutioning, the breadth of modalities available for patients, families, and providers to connect across the continuum is mind-boggling. From a phone, website, television, portal, EHR, app, device – a patient, family caregiver, or provider has the opportunity to connect with someone on their care. And the way data can be leveraged in branching logic, NLP, RPA, chat bots, IVRs, when it works right can streamline the experience. Yet, when the news is ripe with stories of the anger-driven Facebook algorithm, it’s up to all of us to keep ourselves honest and ensure all our interactions reflect the human connection. And, just as there is no substitute for seeing your favorite band live in concert, sometimes we have to find the time for the face-to-face visit. That is the spirit that will drive impactful patient engagement and ensure optimal use of all emerging technologies