Virtual Delivery Models Leading to Better Patient Care
A growing acceptance for virtual care has led many patients to consult third-party telehealth providers. In addition, many health systems are contracting out some specialty telehealth coverage (in areas such as psychiatry and neurology, for example). While this approach expands a hospital’s offerings, it often results in a suboptimal care experience for the patient, disconnected from medical histories and care teams. Such gaps can lead to fragmentation, frustration, and poor outcomes.
Fortunately, health systems are still the providers patients trust most. Many are evolving to meet consumers’ appetites for timely and convenient virtual care. “Health systems need to be our own internal disrupters,” says Arby Nahapetian, MD. “We need patients to show us what actually enhances care rather than thinking we know better.”
Virtual delivery models often blur the lines between emergency, inpatient, and outpatient care in positive ways. “Traditionally, the pathway through the ED was binary,” Patrizio says. “You’re either admitted or sent home. But there have always been patients I call ‘wobblers’ who don’t fit neatly into either category. With virtual care, we’re able to create new, more flexible pathways to serve them.”
Virtual Care is Strengthening Health Systems
Virtual care can solve some of the thorniest challenges facing healthcare organizations, including:
In crowded markets, innovation can help systems stand out from the competition. “During the pandemic, we were first in our area to offer both same-day primary care appointments and on-demand telehealth,” says Kirsten Saint Clair. “Our solution was welcomed by patients and helped us navigate the disaster successfully.”
- ED crowding
Vituity has teamed up with Decoded Health to create a Virtual Front Door that navigates patients to the appropriate level of care. Before leaving home, patients initiate a telehealth visit with an emergency clinician. If appropriate, the ED provider resolves the presenting problem via telehealth. Patients who require a face-to-face ED or urgent care visit arrive fully registered with orders completed.
- System leakage
Integrating follow-up scheduling into the virtual workflow facilitates referrals and helps to keep patients in the system. Some innovative organizations are even integrating apps like Uber into their platforms so patients can schedule rides to their appointments.
- Provider satisfaction
New technologies help clinicians provide better and more satisfying patient care, promoting resilience and career longevity. “Our doctors who follow up directly with patients report an incredibly high level of satisfaction,” Patrizio says. “They have opportunities to adjust care plans and bring patients back for treatment. Or they have peace of mind knowing that the patient is stable.”
Virtual care visits allow health systems to more efficiently serve homebound patients, those with weighty family and work responsibilities, and those who live far from a facility. “We haven’t just cracked the door in terms of generating convenience and value for consumers,” Nahapetian says. “We’ve thrown that door wide open.”
An Improved Patient Experience with Virtual Care
Patients almost universally prefer virtual care models to traditional location-based delivery. “Since we launched Hospital@Home, our patient engagement scores have never been higher,” Nahapetian says. “Clearly, we tapped into an unmet need that we can address going forward.”
Virtual care solves many of the most demanding healthcare challenges facing patients. Gone are the days of guessing where to start the care journey, driving long distances while ill, and struggling to arrange follow-up care. “When we elevate our game, they no longer need to fend for themselves and risk falling through the cracks,” Koury says.
Much of the ease patients feel comes from improved care transitions—an area where systems have historically struggled. “You can be the best pitcher in the league, but without a good catcher, that skill goes to waste,” Nahapetian says. “Virtual care helps to close those gaps.”
Saint Clair agrees. “One of the goals we’re always working toward is making care more seamless,” she says. “We try to anticipate any barriers patients might encounter along the care journey and address them before they become pain points.”
Best of all, patients love receiving care in the comfort of their homes surrounded by family. “I was actually hospitalized with COVID-19,” Nahapetian says. “And wow, was I wishing I could be in our Hospital@Home. I can’t think of another program that has gotten us so many thank-you letters.”
Keeping Up the Momentum
While virtual care has evolved at breakneck speed, health systems have only scratched the surface of its possibilities. But before diving in, experts recommend charting a deliberate course. “Sometimes we jump to the tool before understanding what we’re trying to build and why,” Koury says. “It’s better to focus on solving a few problems well.”
Health systems should also prepare to step into new roles. “I think virtual care has created amazing opportunities to promote wellness,” Saint Clair says. “Historically, we mostly responded when patients needed us. But this technology allows us to reach out to communities and help people manage their whole health.”
No matter the direction, the overarching goal for healthcare leaders should be to keep virtual care adoption moving forward. “Whatever the ceiling is, the floor should be that we don’t go backwards,” Patrizio says. Koury adds, “As long as we continue to put the patient at the center of our discussions, we can significantly move the dial on the quality and accessibility of care we provide.”
Watch the full conversation here.
Vituity CEO Imamu Tomlinson was recognized by Modern Healthcare as One of 50 Most Influential Clinical Executives for expanding Vituity’s scope of care delivery via virtual care models.