Building virtual care infrastructure begins with removal of perceived barriers
Before the pandemic, less than 1% of care delivery was virtual, and today 89% of US healthcare leaders are investing heavily in virtual care. And while virtual care crosses the full range of medical specialties, there is still work to be done to create infrastructure, terminology, and access for all doctors and patients.
But what exactly is virtual care? Dr. Tania Elliott, chief medical officer, virtual care, clinical, and network services at Ascension, says that everyone in the organization needs to be on the same page when it comes to defining virtual care.
“At Ascension, our virtual care strategy is more encompassing than a video visit and includes additional communication technology-based services (e-consultations, asynchronous interactions) and remote home monitoring as well as digital therapeutics,” Elliott said. Ascension partners with other health systems on creating a glossary for virtual care, incorporating both industry and CMS terminology.
Several other hurdles stand in the way of mass adoption of virtual care. The first is to educate healthcare systems on the regulatory landscape, which often means deciphering myth from fact.
“We have a dedicated national legal and advocacy team focused on getting our clinicians the most up-to-date and accurate information. And providing opportunities to be a voice for change and ensure we don’t miss opportunities to use telehealth services because of a perceived barrier,” Elliott said.
The second hurdle is assuring health equity in a landscape where virtual visits have grown into the millions seemingly overnight. While hybrid care can improve workflow, technology can also be seen as a hindrance if it’s difficult for patients and providers to use.
“We are also constantly analyzing our patient data to ensure we are being inclusive of our poor and vulnerable populations,” she explained.
With data, Ascension can assess patients for access to technology and provide these individuals with access when needed. Healthcare systems can also partner with organizations in the community – schools, libraries, community centers, retail – to ensure that patients have virtual care access points.
Finally, Elliott points out that virtual care is not uniformly mature across all markets and healthcare organizations need to develop virtual infrastructure everyone can be involved in building.
Elliott adds that virtual care is a great way for physicians to reach out to patients who otherwise may not see a physician at all. It can act as a triage to determine if a patient needs to see a doctor in person or go to an emergency room.
“For longitudinal care, the bulk of what we do is manage, titrate medications, educate, understand underlying factors that may be contributing to an overall condition,” she said. “What better way to do that than from the comfort of someone’s home. You can have a better understanding of their home environment or, possibly, realize that they may not have a safe and secure home environment. All that you have been telling them to do while seeing them in office may be for naught once you realize they might not have access to a home, let alone medications.”
Particular use cases better lend themselves to virtual care than others. One of them is behavioral health, prenatal visits focused on education and counseling, pre- and post-operative care, or even respiratory care for chronic conditions.
“With remote patient monitoring, there is the opportunity to collect significant information from patients on how they have been since they last saw their clinician. Whereas, in a traditional in-person visit, we are relying on their subjective recall at a point in time when they come to see you in the office,” Elliott said.
Elliott will be presenting, “When will ‘Virtual Care’ simply be ‘Care’?” at the ViVE event on Tues., March 8, when she’ll discuss the value of virtual care in today’s healthcare system.
Read more of our ViVE event coverage:
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Jacqueline Renfrow is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience reporting on and writing about the intersection of healthcare, education, and retail with technology. Living just outside of Washington, DC, she enjoys exploring all that the nation’s capital has to offer with her husband and three children in tow.