The term telehealth is really a misnomer since it implies something at a distance. Virtual healthcare is a more appropriate term because it includes tools and technology that bring expert, collaborative care to the patient by removing the barriers of time and location. Virtual healthcare can be—and should be—the conduit that creates a better continuum of care today and into the future.
The best thing providers can do now is evaluate their current telehealth solution to determine if it can support the new, broader model of virtual care for the future. The right solution should be able to support each of the following capabilities.
A hub & spoke model for rural health
One of the greatest benefits of virtual healthcare is its ability to bring the expertise of world-class specialists to patients, providers, and healthcare facilities at any time and in any location. In this type of hub and spoke model, the remote specialists act as the hub while patients and local providers serve as the spokes. Together, they create a better, more comprehensive healthcare experience.
Consider the case of Alexa, a young woman living in a rural California community who was suffering from calf pain and fever. Her blood pressure was severely low and she was beginning to experience organ failure. Fortunately, Sonoma Valley Hospital had 24/7 access to an infectious disease specialist Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer at Telemed2U. Alexa was able to get an immediate virtual assessment from Dr. Siddiqui while she was in the ER. Based on information from his assessment, Dr. Siddiqui convinced the orthopedic surgeon on call and other specialists to take Alexa into the operating room where she was put in an induced coma so her body could heal. Because of their ability to collaborate in real time, the team at Sonoma was able to act quickly, which is critical in cases such as Alexa’s. Throughout her recovery, Alexa, her family, and the physicians at Sonoma remained in contact with Dr. Siddiqui.
Virtual healthcare technology brings the expertise of world-class physicians to rural communities.
In addition to distance, language has become another significant barrier to quality outcomes. According to a research, “Language barriers are responsible for reducing the satisfaction of medical providers and patients, as well as the quality of healthcare delivery and patient safety.” While online tools like Google Translate and MediBabble can help, they can also increase costs and lengthen treatment visits.
Virtual translation services can help by bringing medically qualified interpreters to the point of care to enable real-time communication between the patient and the provider. The best solutions are those that support both voice and video, and that include hundreds of languages, including sign-language.
It is also important to ensure that the virtual translators you use are medically qualified subject-matter experts and that they are ADA, HIPAA, HITECH, IDEA, CMS and Joint Commission compliant.
Being able to bring a virtual human translator to the bedside can reduce miscommunication, increase care plan adherence, improve outcomes, and enhance the patient experience.
Remote patient diagnostics
Simple video technology works fine for non-urgent patient-physician visits. But it doesn’t necessarily support true patient diagnostics or multidisciplinary care in multiple care settings. This is especially critical in emergency and acute settings where care is urgent, continuous and provided by a variety of clinicians and specialists. The best solutions are those that support virtual rounding and collaborative care in any location, including at home, in the hospital, at long-term care and skilled nursing facilities, and even in schools and the workplace.
The right virtual health technology should be able to bring together the patient, physicians, specialists, counselors, and the patient’s family—all in real time. The care team can discuss symptoms, perform assessments and diagnoses, and educate the patient and family members about the care plan. This type of real-time interaction enables better communication and understanding, which lead to better care plan adherence and, thus, improved outcomes. It also allows for enhanced team collaboration, ideation and innovation.
Post-acute monitoring and chronic disease management
According to research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (PHRQ), nearly 20% of patients experience some type of adverse event in just the first three weeks after discharge from a hospital or emergency department, most of which are preventable. The right virtual health technology can reduce the likelihood of complications and readmissions by enabling hospitals, physicians and specialists the ability to remotely monitor these patients at home throughout this critical post-discharge period.
Providers with a large population of patients with chronic conditions can use virtual health technology to remotely monitor these patients. This can be especially beneficial for those with complex conditions like chronic heart failure, COPD, and diabetes. The best technology will work seamlessly alongside remote devices like pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs, EKG devices, glucose monitors, and sensory insoles. Together, these solutions enable providers to quickly identify problematic issues and quickly intervene. The result is improved chronic disease management, reduced readmissions, and improved outcomes and reimbursement.
Virtual healthcare for the future
COVID-19 necessitated the quick implementation of telehealth solutions across the country. This has brought about renewed interest in using telehealth—now that it’s already in place—to make long-term improvements in how we deliver healthcare. It is important, however, that providers perform an honest evaluation of the telehealth technology they currently have in place and ask whether it has the capabilities needed to support a broader use of virtual care long into the future.