Technology has had a significant impact on the healthcare industry over the last few years. Online appointment scheduling, patient portals and video visits are all evidence of technology’s influence on the industry. Shifting consumer expectations and recent digital transformation trends have called for this evolution in the way that patients can communicate with their healthcare providers. Since consumers now use their mobile devices to accomplish an array of daily tasks such as ordering groceries for delivery or depositing a check through a mobile app, today’s patients have come to expect the same easy and convenient digital experience to accomplish their healthcare needs.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused an additional surge in the adoption of new communications technology by healthcare organizations across the nation. As more patients being to seek care through digital channels, healthcare systems need to develop a plan to ensure their patients can seamlessly receive care through any channel, creating a hybrid healthcare approach that blurs the separation between virtual and in-person care.
Keeping the Human Element Alive with Virtual Care
Now that patients can communicate with their healthcare provider and even receive virtual care via technology in some scenarios, what will happen to the human element of healthcare? For many healthcare situations, a human connection is a necessity. Automating basic or routine segments of the care giving process can be beneficial for both the patient and the organization, but more advanced patient care scenarios demand the human connection that can only take place when the provider can see the patient in person. One of the greatest challenges that healthcare organizations face as the use of virtual care increases is keeping the human element alive while encouraging the use of digital channels.
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Consider the example of a senior receiving care for a severe chronic condition. That patient has likely been seen by the same doctor for many years, allowing for the development of trust and a connection between the two parties that has positively impacted the patient experience. However, due to circumstances brought on by the pandemic, the patient is no longer able to travel to the provider’s office to be seen in person to receive the care they need. The patient must now seek virtual care and visit with the provider over video or sending messages in the patient portal.
Although advancements in technology, such as telehealth solutions, help to extend the reach of care beyond the limits of the physical clinic or hospital, the impact it has on patient-provider relationships must remain a consideration. In the scenario described, the patient could work with the healthcare organization to take a hybrid approach to their care plan, blending digital visits for more frequent check-ins and limiting in-person visits to once a quarter.
The Overlap Between Virtual & In-Person Care
As healthcare organizations continue to layer new technology onto their communications platforms, they should consider virtual healthcare best practices and how shifting patient communication preferences come into play. Rather than delineating the distinction between virtual or in-person experiences and drawing a line in the sand between the two, healthcare systems should remain focused on how to best take advantage of the overlap that exists between the two. Today, patient preferences for certain communication modes may vary based on where and when they are attempting to reach out to their healthcare provider. For instance, a patient may prefer to visit the clinic in-person for symptoms they have not been seen for before but prefer to do a virtual visit to manage an existing condition. Different scenarios call for different patient preferences in communication and receiving care.
Today, many patient journeys begin via a digital channel only to ultimately end up being seen physically by a provider in a clinic or hospital. For example, consider a patient who schedules an appointment online for a virtual consultation with a provider for back pain. While meeting over video, the provider determines that the patient must come into the clinic for a physical exam imaging. This common situation is a prime example of the convergence of virtual and in-person care. Technology can help to enrich the patient experience through taking a hybrid approach to care where there is overlap between digital and physical channels based on the specific need.
To get the most out of a blended approach to care, organizations should consider the scenarios where different modes of communication are preferred and plan their communications strategy accordingly.
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