A Guide to the Complete Digital Patient Experience
Tackling Challenges of Healthcare
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted healthcare unlike any other industry, changing the way care is delivered and received almost overnight. As the virus spread across the nation and quarantine measures were put into place, patient volume plummeted. Rather than risk exposure, patients opted to delay or forego care. At the same time, providers had to prioritize treating sick and high-risk patients over non-critical and elective visits. Practices reported a 55 percent decrease in revenue and a 60 percent reduction in patient volume on average.
To prevent from closing, providers were forced to leverage new tools to reach patients and ensure critical cash flow. Telehealth adoption skyrocketed: During the first quarter of 2020, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50 percent, compared with the same period in 2019. With rapid consumer and provider adoption of telehealth, experts predict that virtual care services could be extended beyond virtual urgent care, growing to a $250 billion revenue opportunity.
The mainstreaming of telehealth is giving rise to new digital health tools that avoid unnecessary physical contact or human intervention.
Contactless care describes a patient experience delivered in a way that avoids unnecessary
person-to-person contact, similar to experiences in many other industries such as banking, aviation and retail. Broadly, contactless care leverages digital (“contactless”) technologies and tools to serve up healthcare and health-related services for everything from appointment scheduling and check-in to virtual consult and online payment. Technology-enabled workflows support patients along each step of their journey while eliminating crowded waiting rooms, high-touch areas, wait times and travel. In these and many other ways, contactless care meets consumer demand for ease, access, convenience, transparency and speed.
Contactless technologies not only benefit patients but providers as well. Some leading health systems, including Memorial Health in Ohio, are offering a contactless experience via a self-service digital check-in platform that allows patients to register, check-in and pay remotely. Automating administrative intake processes streamlines workflows, reduces errors and saves hundreds of staff hours. It also allows medical assistants and other staff to work on more important tasks.
Even though pandemic restrictions have lifted, and vaccinations are underway, there remains a lot of uncertainty about the future, and outpatient visits aren’t expected to return to normal until the end of 2021. The pandemic has demonstrated the relevance of contactless care and presented an opening to evolve care delivery and the patient experience – not just for urgent care needs but for the entire patient journey.
The Benefits of Contactless Care
Even before the pandemic, going to see the doctor could be complicated or even overwhelming depending on the patient’s life circumstances. The patient may have a condition that makes it difficult to leave the house or might have to travel to another city to see a specialist. A parent who works from home may struggle finding childcare or taking time off work. As a result, many patients skip or postpone medical care.
Contactless care can help improve health outcomes by delivering safe, timely and consistent care that’s also accessible and affordable. Digital technologies meet patients where they are, helping overcome barriers to care and keeping them connected with their providers in a way that’s not just convenient, but also personal. By putting patients at the center, contactless care can help drive higher levels of engagement and satisfaction that empower improved outcomes.
Keeping patients safe from preventable harm is fundamental to the practice of medicine and the delivery of quality care. Patients who trust their providers to care for them and who feel confident they’re in a safe environment will have a more positive experience of care. A Press Ganey report found that organizations with high marks on safety and quality measures have higher patient experience scores, which help improve financial outcomes.
COVID-19 has put hygiene and safety top of mind. The days of long wait times in crowded waiting rooms are in the past. Despite social distancing measures, nearly half of Americans said they or a family member had delayed or skipped needed medical care because of the pandemic, and 30 percent of surveyed adults reported fear of transmission of COVID-19 as the reason for delaying care.
Putting off preventive care, skipping important diagnostic procedures or avoiding the emergency department puts patient outcomes and long-term health at risk. Contactless care allows providers to offer routine and follow-up care, prescribe medications and make behavioral health and other referrals with no physical contact, protecting patients and staff.
Whole Person Care
Behavioral health disorders affect nearly one in five Americans, yet these issues go untreated about 50 percent of the time. Low treatment rates can be attributed to a number of factors, including:
- Screening methods
- Lack of specialty training in behavioral health
- Limited appointment times
- Administrative burden on staff
- Discomfort among staff and patients having to discuss personal matters
Integrating behavioral and physical healthcare, an approach often referred to as “whole person” care, is more important than ever. Leveraging virtual care tools, primary care providers are empowered to act as a team leader, coordinating services provided by other caregivers to meet their patients’ multidimensional healthcare needs from a single location.
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on mental health and substance use disorders (SUD). The fear of illness, death of loved ones, social isolation, job losses and an uncertain future has led to a tripling of mental health issues, with as many as 4 in 10 adults reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic. A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found that many adults, including young adults, are experiencing negative impacts on their health and well-being, including increases in their drug and alcohol use, worsening chronic conditions due to worry about the pandemic and suicidal ideation. As a result, demand for mental health and addiction treatment services has increased 52 percent while capacity has decreased, as many organizations were forced to cancel programs and reschedule or turn away patients.
The pandemic has brought to light the connection between a patient’s physical and mental health. It has emphasized the need to consider what’s happening outside the doctor’s office that can also impact their condition, such as sleep, diet, finances and relationships.
Poor physical health often impacts a patient’s mental health. For example, about one-third of people with a chronic condition experience symptoms of depression. And the more severe the condition and disruptive it is to everyday life, the greater the risk for depression. Similarly, if a patient’s behavioral health needs aren’t met, then controlling their physical health is difficult. People with severe mental illness or substance use disorders (SUD) are less likely to adhere to treatment regimens or seek follow-up care. As Dr. Bernadette Clevenger, a family medicine and functional medicine practitioner in St. Paul, Minnesota, observed: “What happens in your mind determines your behavior, and your behavior influences your physical health.”
Virtual care tools allow primary care providers to better deliver integrated or “whole person” care. These digital tools facilitate referral and collaboration via videoconferencing and messaging with a variety of specialists who can address the social and emotional factors that influence a patient’s health status.
However, identifying a patient’s behavioral health needs isn’t always clear cut. Many patients with depression or alcohol and/or substance use disorders are not forthcoming about their struggle. In fact, a JAMA study found that 81 percent of patients fib or withhold information about their behaviors to avoid being judged, and this can have a negative impact on patients’ health.
In order to ensure patients receive the most appropriate care, providers need new tools to reach and engage them. Digital health risk assessments are designed to save providers time while maximizing clinical workflows, reimbursement and patient engagement. Screeners are valid clinical tools that can be integrated into the digital check-in process and configured to match current screening workflows, identifying patients qualified for screening based on appointment type, provider, specialty, department and frequency.
Moreover, digital screeners help reduce the anxiety or embarrassment of sharing personal information with someone other than one’s doctor and are proven to identify more patients at risk for behavioral health issues when compared with manual screening methods. Patient information is automatically captured and integrated in real time into the electronic health record, saving time, improving data accuracy and reducing rework.
Combined with digital communications tools, such as texting, virtual care tools drive patient engagement, which leads to a patient not just being more in-tune with their care plan but ultimately improving outcomes. Contactless care technologies are foundational to delivering whole person care in a way that ensures practices can successfully identify, treat and bill for behavioral health while improving patient access and outcomes.
Before the pandemic, the healthcare system was already racked by skyrocketing healthcare costs, physician shortages and an aging population. COVID-19 was the tipping point that made it clear that the traditional way of delivering medical care was no longer sustainable. New contactless technologies are helping the industry manage these challenges and is proving to be an especially effective strategy for making care more affordable.
The high cost of healthcare is causing millions of people to delay medical treatment. A Gallup poll found:
- A third of those surveyed say their family couldn’t afford care in the past year.
- One in four say care was deferred for a serious medical condition.
- Roughly 33 percent report delaying care for a less serious illness.
- Lower-income adults are more likely to say they delayed care.
Moreover, a study by the American Cancer Society found that more than half (56 percent) of Americans surveyed report medical financial hardship and say they struggle with affordability, stress and skipping, delaying or stopping medical treatment. The authors of the report commented: “With increasing prevalence of multiple chronic conditions, higher patient cost-sharing and higher costs of healthcare, the risk of hardship will likely increase in the future.”
Contactless care can help curb healthcare costs. For one, it’s far less expensive. For example, the national median cost for a video consult or telehealth visit is $50 compared to $85 for a routine office visit and $130 for an urgent care visit. As a result, some insurers are encouraging members to take advantage of virtual care and lowering copays for those who do. It also saves patients money in terms of time (for example, being able to meet with a provider without leaving work) and distance traveled as well helping navigate them to the most appropriate—and often less expensive—care setting.
By delivering care on demand, patients’ concerns can often be resolved without the need for an expensive office visit or trip to the emergency department. One study of more than 5,500 patients who had a virtual consult with an emergency medical services physician revealed a 56 percent reduction in unnecessary ambulance transports and a seven percent reduction in unnecessary visits. Each avoided ED visit saves more than $1,389 per patient, a cost that doesn’t include extra charges, such as blood tests, IVs, drugs or other treatments.
In addition, research finds that digital communications tools, such as texting, play a key role in improving patient engagement and involvement with their treatment plans. From appointment reminders to scheduling, confirmations and check-ins, accessible active management of one’s health is a key factor in staying healthier and reducing care costs.
For providers, mobile check-in and telehealth consults save money by unclogging waiting rooms, streamlining workflows and freeing up admin time by, for example, allowing staff to engage in multiple asynchronous conversations at the same time instead of answering phone calls one at a time, listening to messages and returning missed calls. The impact of virtual care could save $10 billion annually in three key areas: annual patient visits, ongoing patient management and self-care. Reducing cost of care for providers enables savings to be passed along to patients.
In a world where consumers can have dinner delivered to their doorstep in an hour through a virtual assistant, watch a newly released movie from their sofa and pay bills with their smartphone, convenience drives choice and behavior. Compared to most other industries, however, healthcare has been slow to providing patients with the same easy, on-demand experiences they’re used to in almost every other area of their lives.
According to NRC Health, providers are naturally focused on the care encounter but often mistakenly assume that patient satisfaction will result in loyalty. The group’s market survey revealed that despite being happy with their care, more than 80 percent of patients would consider switching providers for convenience factors alone. It stands to reason that because care is often episodic, patient satisfaction is specific to the encounter and doesn’t translate into a larger sense of brand satisfaction or repeat business. At the same time, repeat business isn’t always an indicator of loyalty either. For many patients, it may be a default decision because they feel they lack better options or are overwhelmed, constricted or confused by choices of service.
Healthcare organizations must rethink and redesign what convenient care looks like for the physical and virtual customer. Contactless care technologies can be instrumental in attracting new patients and retaining existing ones by improving access to care, making it both convenient and equitable while improving outcomes and keeping patients safe.
Access to medical care is essential to promoting and maintaining health, impacting a person’s physical, social and emotional well-being. Yet for many Americans, especially low-income patients and those who reside in rural communities, convenient access to care—even prior to the pandemic—has been a struggle. Common barriers to accessing healthcare services are related to time, transportation and location.
Many providers offer limited office hours and are closed evenings and weekends, making it difficult for patients to see the doctor outside of work or school schedules. Provider visits wait times can also interfere with receiving care, and not just in the exam room. A Merritt Hawkins survey found the average wait time for new patient doctor appointments was 24 days and even longer for family medicine appointments. Moreover, the social determinants of health also play a role. For example, many low-income Americans who lack reliable transportation, receiving medical care is even more difficult. According to the American Hospital Association, more than three million patients, including four percent of children, miss medical appointments each year due to transportation issues.
Another barrier to care is location. Fewer than 10 percent of physicians practice in rural areas. That means patients living in rural areas often face traveling long distances to see a doctor and may struggle with weather, environmental barriers, transportation, fuel costs and time taken off work and away from family responsibilities. Of the more than 7,000 areas in the U.S. with provider shortages, nearly 60 percent are in rural areas. A survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that while most rural Americans have insurance, nearly 25 percent say they don’t have regular access to care and haven’t been able to get the care they need.
More recently, the CDC reported that 41 percent of Americans delayed or avoided medical care out of concern about COVID-19. Avoidance of urgent or emergency care was highest among unpaid caregivers for adults, people with underlying medical conditions, Black and Hispanic adults, young adults and persons with disabilities. Lack of access to convenient care can cause patients to skip or delay care, leading to worsening conditions and lack of medication management—all of which drive up hospitalizations and healthcare costs.
Contactless care improves patient access and health equity by reaching patients remotely, where they are at home, work or school. In areas with physician shortages or lack of specialty care, such as rural areas, virtual care allows providers to see more patients across greater distances while mitigating the need for travel. Virtual care is also timely care that can be provided on-demand in real or near-real time so patients can be seen and treated sooner. Providing immediate access to healthcare services delivers on convenience, a key factor in patient acquisition and retention, while keeping costs down as well as ensuring patient safety during a time of fear and uncertainty.
The struggle against provider and staff burnout is real. A leading contributor to the stress is the overwhelming number of tasks physicians and staff are expected to perform daily. However, even a seemingly small 10 percent drop in workload can greatly reduce the experience of burnout. Contactless care technologies can help practices reduce the burden of stress and overwork by streamlining administrative workflows and facilitating care.
Almost half of a doctor’s work day is spent on administrative work, while only 27 percent is spent on direct clinical care. For each hour of clinical face-to-face time physicians spend with patients, an additional two are filled with administrative and clerical tasks. Automating administrative intake processes with digital check-in can lower the burden on providers and staff by putting documentation in the hands of patients, streamlining workflows, saving hundreds of staff hours and reducing data entry errors. Patients can use a personal smartphone or tablet to verify their insurance, sign consent forms and authorization releases, verify or update clinical information and more (without the back-and-forth of phone calls and faxes)—all of which updates in real time with the patient’s electronic health record.
While healthcare technology is necessary, it is not always easy to use or manage. When it comes to facilitating care delivery, technology often gets in the way of engaging directly with the patient. The answer is finding more comprehensive, efficient technology solutions that are interoperable, highly automated, easy to use and take into account the patient experience to improve adoption.
Virtual care platforms that are web-based and compatible with multiple browsers support care delivery by making it easy for patients, regardless of technical ability, to access their virtual appointment. Web-based applications also eliminate the need for patients to download an app or sign into a portal. Instead, patients are provided with a single clickable link to join the call. Making virtual consults easy on patients streamlines exam time and means providers don’t spend valuable time troubleshooting IT issues. Moreover, contactless solutions that allow physicians to document directly into the EHR while conducting a video consultation, without switching environments, support critical documentation needs without taking attention away from the patient.
As this industry-wide conversation evolves, this page will further explore how contactless care impacts the patient journey and offer keys to success in delivering accessible virtual care.
The Patient Journey
Patients don’t have just one experience of healthcare, but many. They interact with a practice or hospital from the moment they begin looking for a provider to the time they pay for services. These different touchpoints across the continuum of care make up the patient journey. Each step along the way presents important opportunities to reach and engage patients when they want, in the way they prefer and with the information or services they seek – ultimately delivering an overall exceptional experience of care.
While most doctors and caregivers are drawn to the profession to help people, lacking a connected digital experience not only feels taxing and burdensome to consumers, it can also get in the way of care. A 2020 healthcare consumer experience study found that finding, accessing and paying for healthcare in the U.S. is so difficult that half of consumers surveyed said they have avoided seeking care. The study also found:
- More than two-thirds of consumers said every step of the healthcare process is a chore.
- Many said they felt healthcare was purposefully set up to be confusing.
- Not one respondent rated any of the 29 tasks measured “effortless.”
- The vast majority said they want shopping for healthcare to be as easy as shopping for other common services.
The customer experience and engagement tools used in retail, banking and other industries, have set a high bar. Consumers want convenient, seamless digital healthcare experiences. Providers who hope to catch up quickly will need to adopt a digital strategy that includes contactless technology to create easy access points. Digital tools can help patients find the right provider and care setting, schedule appointments online, check-in from their mobile phone, receive alerts and reminders, pay their bill and more. By leveraging these digital tools, providers can begin to streamline, simplify and connect the steps in the patient journey, removing any potential barriers and ensuring each touchpoint is supported and friction-free.
The care journey begins before the patient ever sees the doctor. Today’s healthcare consumer goes through many of the same steps in deciding where to go for care that they would before buying a new product, from visiting provider websites and comparing services to reading reviews. But, almost always, the path to a provider’s digital front door begins with an online search. A consumer survey by Doctors.com found that 80 percent of patients use the internet to make a healthcare-related search. From there, the information they find through digital channels influences their choice in providers. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would choose one provider over another, even if it meant going out of network, because of a strong online presence.
Contactless patient navigation technology can help providers reach patients early in their search and connect them with the right provider and care setting. These digital tools automate clinical and operational protocols based on a patient’s search criteria triage and direct patients to providers that meet their needs based on provider expertise, availability, insurance plans, geographic location and the optimal care setting.
By improving the initial point of access when patients first interact with providers, contactless care technology enables a key connection between healthcare organizations and patients, helping strengthen relationships. Self-service capabilities also engage and empower patients, which can lead to better quality care, greater efficiencies and patient satisfaction.
Consumers want better and faster access to healthcare. Once they’ve found the right provider, they want to be able to schedule an appointment at their convenience – such as after hours or weekends – and they don’t want to wait weeks or months to be seen. Long wait times are not only frustrating but can negatively impact patient satisfaction and lead to patients abandoning needed medical care. According to a 2019 survey by Accenture, nearly 60 percent of all patients place greater importance on convenience of appointment times, wait time and speed of appointment. Moreover, about 70 percent of patients are more likely to choose a provider that allows them to book, change and cancel appointments online. And, two out of five consumers report having looked for and ultimately switched providers to get an appointment sooner.
Despite consumers’ overwhelming demand for digital capabilities, provider adoption of digital strategies and technologies has not kept up. Many practices still take a traditional approach to scheduling, having patients call in to make appointments. However, there remain barriers to scheduling appointments over the phone. For one, only half of consumers who call for an appointment are able to book an appointment over the phone on the first try. Scheduling via phone is also inefficient, taking eight minutes on average versus one minute online. Being placed on hold, leaving messages and missing calls can set off a chain reaction of poor ratings and reviews from dissatisfied patients.
Creating a contactless patient experience that includes digital appointment scheduling allows patients to easily view doctors’ schedules and book or reschedule appointments at convenient times by leveraging online channels they already use and trust, including search engines, social media platforms and provider and health plan websites.
Online scheduling not only optimizes access to care for patients, it also helps providers streamline and improve the accuracy of their schedules, including non-traditional visits such as telehealth, walk-ins and home visits, and integrating these into in-person visits to accommodate hybrid care models. Digital tools can automate provider scheduling intake rules, protocols and workflows to ensure scheduling integrity, allowing providers to retain control over their schedules and integrating into practice management systems.
Digital appointment scheduling, together with automated appointment reminders, can help deliver a better, more connected patient journey while simplifying complex bookings, alleviating burdensome administrative and reducing no-shows and long wait times.
One of the most challenging touchpoints for patients comes early in their journey: check-in.
Despite the adoption of many healthcare IT systems and the digitization of medical records, patient check-in is a complex process that remains largely stuck in the past. Many practices continue to rely on manual, outdated registration and intake that require patients to arrive early for their in-person appointments in order to fill out a stack of paperwork by hand, verify their insurance information and make a co-payment. This is true even if the patient has been seen by the provider and is coming in for a routine appointment or follow up. Not to mention, relying on manual registration does not work for telehealth or other virtual appointments.
The manual check-in process is not merely inconvenient, it also leads to poor time management that results in longer wait times and creates a frustrating experience that can undermine the patient-provider relationship and cause patients to look for more convenient care elsewhere. In fact, 68 percent of patients surveyed said the wait times in their medical office are not reasonable. With more than 40 percent of millennials and Gen Xers saying they’re likely to switch physicians in the next two years, outdated processes – and the poor communications that go with them – are risks many practices can’t afford to take.
Beyond the experience of care, manual patient check-in also hurts providers by contributing to mistakes, inaccuracies and missing information that can result in delayed and/or denied claims. When it comes to paperwork, small mistakes can have significant and lasting impacts on practice success. More than two-thirds of the information submitted on a claim form is given by the patient during the registration process. Yet depending on the circumstances of their visit, many patients may not be in the right frame of mind to focus on answering numerous questions or recall the details and dates of screenings, treatments and prescriptions. Others may feel impatient with the process and skip over sections. Moreover, for administrative staff, handwritten forms can be difficult for staff to read, interpret and key into the EHR. One wrong digit in a patient’s social security number carries over to the claim, which then leads to denials and delays in billing.
Patients are increasingly responsible for their medical bills and are choosing where to invest their healthcare dollars. Contactless check-in streamlines and automates patient registration for a convenient and reliable experience that lays the foundation for the patient journey.
Digital check-in allows providers to send a simple text message, including a secure link, to start the process. The practice can forward forms and consents based on the provider, practice specialty, appointment type and patient demographics, for a more personalized care experience that’s also easy to use. Patients can begin the check-in process when, where and how it is most convenient for them. Cloud-based tools enable patients to complete as much as they want before the in-person or virtual appointment with no lost work or duplicate entry. Moreover, with digital check-in technologies that integrate with electronic health records and practice management systems, patient information is automatically captured and populated in real time into the solutions, putting data exactly where it needs to go without re-entering information – saving time, improving data accuracy and reducing rework. The result is a more uniform, efficient and accurate check-in process that not only saves time but also improves patients’ perceptions of wait times by keeping them actively engaged.
From gene editing and CRISPR technology to targeted cancer therapies, the U.S. leads the world in terms of medical innovation, yet it lags behind most other industries when it comes to contactless payments. Paper-based medical billing continues to remain the dominant means for collecting patient payments. While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated provider adoption of some digital tools and technologies, including contactless payments, a new healthcare payments report warns of a growing disconnect between consumers and providers that could harm organizations still recovering from the pandemic.
The pandemic also accelerated healthcare consumerism, pushing patient demands for digital technologies that improve access, choice and convenience to the forefront. With high-deductible health plans now commonplace, consumers are responsible for a greater share of their medical costs and are paying higher out-of-pocket expenses. Today, the patient is one of the primary healthcare payers. As such, they are demanding frictionless payment experiences. The 2020 InstaMed report found:
- Roughly 80 percent of patients want to make their healthcare payments in one place.
- More than half of patients would consider switching providers for a better payment experience.
- Nearly 8 in 10 consumers want contactless options made prevalent amid the pandemic to remain in the future, including telehealth and digital payments.
During the pandemic, about one-third of providers pivoted to contactless payment methods, such as online payments, in an effort to maintain cash flow while reducing or eliminating person-to-person contact. However, paper-based bills and manual processes for payment notifications and collections are still prevalent for the vast majority.
These processes not only undermine the patient experience, they also contribute to providers’ financial challenges. For one, they take more resources and are more expensive. Research from the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH) finds that manual transactions cost $5.42 more than electronic ones and take nine minutes more to handle. The added expense doesn’t guarantee payment either. In fact, 63 percent of providers surveyed by InstaMed reported that it took over 30 days to collect after a patient encounter, and half said they couldn’t collect balances of $400 or more in 30 days.
To remain competitive, providers should consider offering a patient payment process that meets consumer demand while supporting the organization’s revenue cycle. Contactless payment options do both. Digital bill pay improves the patient financial journey by making it easy to pay a medical bill. “Card not present” payments allow patients to enter their credit card information into a secure digital portal that they can access via a link in their invoice or text message. These types of payments are used by many online retailers such as Amazon. Patients can be presented with copays, outstanding balances and collections to pay immediately before or after the appointment. With electronic bill pay, providers can offer payment plans and control minimum payment totals and self-pay options.
The pandemic has helped speed the transformation in patient-centered bill pay. Self-service and contactless payments help maintain a steady revenue cycle, reduce provider costs, facilitate patient payments and offer a convenient and secure financial experience — all while helping keep staff and patients safe.
Telehealth is not a new technology, but it is one of many digital tools that was quickly adopted and evolved during the pandemic. Telehealth employs telecommunications technologies, such as remote patient monitoring, video conferencing and mHealth (mobile health), to assist providers in remotely delivering healthcare services. It has proven to be a versatile and timely tool not just for urgent care needs but for the entire patient journey – optimizing touchpoints ranging from triage, screenings and virtual visits to referrals, communications with patients and family members and follow ups. Its ability to reach people “where they are” has helped providers address many challenges of healthcare access, whether for social, geographic, financial or mobility reasons – expediting treatment in a manner that is safe and comfortable, both during a time of crisis and after.
Yet despite the promise virtual health offers to transform care delivery, providers were slow to adopt the technology prior to the pandemic. The 2020 Deloitte Survey of U.S. Physicians found that while most of physicians saw value in telehealth, fewer than one in four were using any virtual health solutions. And while uptake increased during the crisis, fueled by regulatory flexibility and need, previous barriers still need to be addressed moving forward, including:
Many telehealth platforms are overly complex, cumbersome and difficult to implement. The American Medical Association reports that, on average, it takes hospitals 23 months to go from identifying a digital innovation need, such as a telehealth platform, to scaling a digital solution to meet that need. Smaller practices and medical groups will need telehealth capabilities scaled to fit their business needs that can be implemented in a matter of days, not weeks or months.
Telehealth growth has been limited by significant startup costs, especially for smaller practices or those with fewer resources. Beyond the infrastructure investment, costs included time and resources implementing the technology, redesigning clinical workflows, training doctors and staff on the tools,and spending on IT personnel to help program, maintain and troubleshoot problems with the platform.
Providers need to be able to seamlessly document in the EHR, yet 58 percent of physicians are not able to integrate telehealth tools with other systems and EHRs due to interoperability issues and poor technical support – all of which adds to physician overload, fatigue and stress.
Practice success depends on a simple, cost-effective and timely solution.
From a technological perspective, the pandemic not only accelerated telehealth adoption, thanks to easing restrictions for faster implementation and expanded reimbursements, it also ignited rapid innovation and software iterations that were tested and upgraded during a real-time crisis.
As a result, lightweight HIPAA-compliant telehealth products have entered the market. offering new solutions to previous challenges. Providers now have access to scaled-down systems that are user-friendly, mobile and can be implemented in two days or less. Instead of investing in expensive hardware and selecting software based on that expenditure, providers can utilize solutions to fit their specific needs, thereby reducing costs while increasing network flexibility. Cloud-optimized platforms also reduce dependence on IT resources, eliminating lost data, manual updates and bug fixes.
The pandemic called critical attention to the need for health information to move seamlessly. Yet as the Harvard Business Review pointed out, the last massive digital acceleration in healthcare was the national drive for physician adoption of EHRs, which – despite the good that came from it – was also the primary cause of physician burnout. Doctors are understandably wary of telehealth, fearing it could add to their “cognition crisis.” However, many new telehealth solutions leverage vendor- and standards-agnostic technology to solve EHR interoperability problems, allowing clinicians to initiate workflows from inside their own familiar EHRs and powering standardized health data exchange.
In a recent nationwide survey by the American Telemedicine Association, patients report high levels of satisfaction with telehealth and expect to continue to receive healthcare services virtually beyond the pandemic. Telehealth services meet them wherever they are in their journey, offering 24/7 access to care and enabling them to overcome barriers that reduce access, utilization and engagement.
As telehealth capabilities continue to expand and evolve from a narrow service-line focus to being an integrated offering for routine care and patient management and reimbursement across the care continuum they will continue to advance in ease of use, functionality, quality and financial sustainability.
Perhaps one of the most important yet least focused on parts of the continuum of care is follow-up. Whether it’s to check in on a patient recovering from surgery or monitor a patient dealing with a chronic disease, proactive and timely follow-up helps ensure patients understand and stick to their prescribed treatment plan. It’s an important part of the primary goal of healthcare providers to promote continuity of care, the process by which the patient and his/her physician-led care team are cooperatively involved in ongoing health care management toward the shared goal of high quality, cost-effective medical care.
There are several reasons to follow up with patients, especially those recently discharged from a hospital stay, including discussing the primary reason for the hospitalization, any tests that were performed and the corresponding results, potential medication changes and checking vital signs. The follow-up process also mitigates post-discharge complications and gives the patient a chance to talk with his or her primary care physician about any other health concerns.
Follow-up with patients can come in multiple forms, from a phone call or text message to email or a letter or a combination of these methods. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a follow-up phone call should consist of components such as coordination of post-discharge home services and a review of what to do if a medical problem arises. Any outreach should be customized to the patient’s situation.
In addition to increasing the likelihood of a positive outcome for patients, conducting follow-up combined with patient engagement strategies can minimize safety and reduce hospital readmissions. Using digital technology tools enables healthcare providers to achieve these benefits while reducing potential infectious exposures and decreasing the need for extensive or inconvenient travel.
By simply powering up their smartphone, tablet or other mobile device, patients can schedule a follow-up appointment, complete any necessary forms and pay for their visit, all without stepping foot in their doctor’s office. Digital technologies also enable provider staff to automate numerous time-consuming tasks, including scheduling and performing follow-up care.
For example, telehealth promotes a contactless care experience for both patients and providers by eliminating – or at least minimizing – unnecessary contact, especially during an infectious disease outbreak such as COVID-19. Like other forms of virtual care, it spurs increased availability of care and often boosts patient satisfaction. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) notes that employing telehealth for follow-up care:
- Offers an opportunity to further engage with the patient to perform more assessments, talk to family members, ensure they understand their follow-up instructions about medications and encourage them to schedule any referral appointments
- Provides additional care to patients who need observation but aren’t so sick that they need constant care
- Detects potential problems and treats them before they warrant a return visit to the emergency room
- Delivers emotional support, especially for patients in isolation
- Extends a training opportunity for resident physicians
- Reduces hospital costs associated with unnecessary readmissions and CMS penalties for readmission for certain conditions
Other forms of contactless patient communication, including online appointment scheduling and HIPAA-compliant secure messaging, can be utilized by patients to remind them of important follow-up visits, view test results or ask specific questions about their treatment plan. This doesn’t result in a less personal experience, though.
According to research findings presented at the virtual American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2020, surgical patients who participate in virtual follow-up visits after their operations spend a similar amount of time with surgical team members as those who meet face-to-face. They also benefit by spending less time waiting at and traveling to the physician’s office for in-person appointments.
A study published in Health Affairs notes that using virtual care for urgent care visits may actually lead to additional follow-up care in person. Scheduling these virtual appointments also offers patients an extra level of convenience, as a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care reported that 79 percent of the responding patients stated it was easier to find a convenient time for a follow-up telemedicine visit than a traditional office visit.
There are three primary goals of doctor-patient communication: creating a good interpersonal relationship, facilitating exchange of information and including patients in decision making. All these components combine to improve a patient’s health and medical care.
In healthcare and with patient-system interactions, communication is bidirectional, meaning:
- Patients need to be able to convey information about their health complaints to healthcare workers.
- Healthcare workers must be able to adequately comprehend and interpret the information in order to treat health complaints appropriately.
- In order to decrease the risk of health complaints from recurring, healthcare workers must convey adequate information to patients to help them take preventative measures in order to maintain their health.
Physicians, nurses and other clinicians must be able to provide clear, consistent and well-time communication, especially in often stressful medical situations. They’re responsible for communicating to coordinate a patient’s care by sharing specific and secure information, which is especially important in a multidisciplinary care team.
Patient surveys have consistently shown that healthcare consumers want better communication with their doctors, with a majority preferring it patient-centered. To be successful, this communication should start from day one of the physician-patient relationship, as it’s been proven that the first impression has a strong impact on positive and negative judgments on doctors’ communication approach and may facilitate or inhibit all further interactions.
A lack of efficient communication between healthcare providers and patients can have serious consequences. In fact, A review of reports from a study conducted by The Joint Commission revealed more than 70 percent of medical errors are the direct result of communication failures.
One study estimated that communication failures in U.S. hospitals and medical practices were responsible at least in part for 30 percent of all malpractice claims, resulting in 1,744 deaths and $1.7 billion in malpractice costs over five years. Another found that an average 500-bed hospital loses more than $4 million each year due to communication inefficiencies.
Adding technology into the communications mix assists physicians and other clinicians, as long as the solution is well-designed and streamlines workflows instead of negatively impacting them. Digital communications tools offer providers an effective way to not only reduce medical errors but also improve provider-patient interaction and staff teamwork, maintain compliance with various government regulations such as HIPAA and receive fewer patient complaints.
Whether providers communicate with patients through email, secure texts or other digital tools, they improve their ability to scale patient outreach with personalized messaging to a patient’s preferred method of communication. Automating this process adds another level of contactless care to effectively engage patients and meet them wherever they are in their care journey.
Research has found that digital communications tools promote patient engagement and encourage patients to be more involved in their treatment plan. They enable providers to proactively communicate with their patients before and after encounter, even without a reduced staff. The use of customized and interactive messages can be used to prompt patients to seek and manage their healthcare more consistently, resulting in improved outcomes.
Physician practices of all sizes can utilize digital tools to offer contactless care and achieve optimized clinical communication. Those that do report measurable improvements in patient transfer times, bed utilization, patient throughput, clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction.
As this industry-wide conversation evolves, this page will further explore how contactless care impacts the patient journey and offer keys to success in delivering accessible care.
Learn how Epion Health can partner with you as your all-in-one technology solution to help you and your organization provide contactless care.
There’s no one-size-fits all strategy that for healthcare providers can to utilize to promote a high level of patient care and financial sustainability while offering contactless care. Although there are certainly best practices offered by various healthcare industry agencies and organizations, what works for one provider might not fit the operational needs of another.
A large physician practice located in a bustling metropolitan area will most likely have different financial and operational goals than a small, rural office. Therefore, it’s important that each practice implement technology and workflows that allow for the levels of contactless care their patients prefer.
Managing Hybrid Care
An emerging model of patient care that combines virtual and in-person experiences across the full continuum of care, hybrid care allows the physical to join the digital to create a cohesive and seamless experience for both providers and patients. To be effective, it should be convenient, improve access to care and even strive to address physician burnout.
Basically, an appropriate hybrid care strategy for any size and type of healthcare provider organization is one that reduces administrative tasks for clinicians and offers patients options that make it more convenient to receive care. It has the potential to reduce unnecessary office visits, create efficient care pathways, reduce costs and allow for triage and screening to prevent unnecessary contact.
The guiding principles of the hybrid care model are connection, integration and collaboration. It employs technology such as video conferencing, virtual waiting rooms, patient monitoring and appointment scheduling and workflows that allow for HIPAA-compliant digital check-in, automated appointment reminders and two-way text messaging and others that enable contactless care to increase access to patient care and close gaps in that care.
Along with being an important component for providers transitioning from fee-for-service (FFS) to value-based care, telehealth is a crucial piece of a hybrid care strategy. Although use of telehealth has decreased somewhat since it spiked during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that 76 percent of the respondents indicated they were very or somewhat likely to continue using telehealth after the pandemic.
Even mental and behavioral health providers are using a hybrid care model to increase access and improve health outcomes. Research has shown telepsychiatry can help overcome access barriers. One study found that patients who had hybrid care had improved timeliness of care and an increased number of total outpatient encounters compared with those with only in-person outpatient visits.
When used properly, healthcare technology has the potential to improve patient care. Solutions like those designed for decision support increase efficacy, reduce errors, improve quality of care and increase clinician, staff and patient satisfaction. In contrast, poorly-designed healthcare technology often imposes frustrating processes into the care delivery experience and is a contributory factor in clinician burnout and a lack of professional well-being.
Attributes of effective, efficient and usable healthcare technology include:
- Easy retrieval of accurate, timely and reliable native and imported data
- Simple and intuitive data presentation
- Easy navigation
- Availability of evidence at the point of care to aid decision-making
- Capability to enhances workflow, automate mundane tasks and streamline work without increasing physical or cognitive workload
- Easy transfer of information to and from other organizations and clinicians
- No unanticipated downtime
Healthcare providers are using digital health technologies in their efforts to optimize contactless care to reduce inefficiencies, improve access, reduce costs, increase quality and make medicine more personalized for patients. Kareo’s State of the Independent Practice Industry Report found that approximately 70 percent of independent practices cite technology as necessary to improve their efficiency and profitability.
Many patients enjoy digital data access because they can review their information for medical errors, gain more control over their health and better manage chronic conditions. According to an Accenture research report,
- Approximately 60 percent of patients want to use technology more for communicating with healthcare providers and managing their conditions.
- Four in ten patients started using a new app or digital technology to stay connected to their providers at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Ninety percent of those using any type of digital health tool for the first time during the pandemic rated their experience as good.
- Eighty percent of those who had used patient engagement technology before rated a good experience.
- Forty percent of patients said digital health tools were more convenient than traditional, in-person health.
Investing in technology solutions in a strategic method is paramount. Recommended technologies available to providers interested in offering options for contactless care include digital check-in, telehealth, online payment platforms, remote patient monitoring, automated communication tools and patient portals. When combined, they create a contactless experience from pre-visit registration to post-visit payment and all the way in between, not to mention reducing contamination risks.
Enabling patients to use this technology vastly streamlines the check-in process, decreases wait times and reduces the workload of practice staff members. If the digital check-in data automatically flows into the electronic health record (EHR), it can save time for administrative staff and help clinicians prepare for a visit sooner, so appointments can be faster and more efficient.
Patients can use a personal smartphone, from home or in the office, to verify their insurance, sign consent forms and authorization releases, verify or update clinical information and more — all of which updates in real-time with the patient’s electronic record. The process is able to be completed at home before the appointment, which can significantly shorten the “dwell” times where patients are not receiving care.
A virtual care environment via telehealth might include remote patient monitoring, video conferencing and mHealth (mobile health) or a combination of these capabilities. Though some doctors initially doubted the efficacy of telehealth, Deloitte published a study that found that 90 percent of physicians agree that virtual care is beneficial in terms of increased access, communication and satisfaction.
Research conducted only a couple of years before the COVID-19 pandemic found that video-based patient encounters resulted in fewer medication errors, greater diagnostic accuracy and improved decision-making when compared to telephone-only encounters. For contactless care, telehealth can prove especially advantageous by:
- Encouraging patients who are sick to seek medical care from home, thereby reducing contact with other people and possibly spreading the virus.
- Increasing provider efficiency and decreasing burnout by treating low-acuity and high-demand conditions.
- Saving time and money through reduced travel and e-prescribing.
- Reducing wait times.
- Decreasing the risk of contamination to at-risk populations.
- Alleviating overcrowding at physician offices, hospitals and urgent care clinics.
- Providing education on preventive measure
- Providing data on outbreaks by geographic areas.
Telehealth and other forms of virtual care also provide clinicians with enhanced capability to communicate and collaborate with other physicians on patient care, securely access shared records from a mobile device, ensure continuity of care, accurately record clinical information and close gaps in care. All of this can be achieved while offering multiple levels of contactless care.
Online Payment Platforms
Contactless payment has soared in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic across all industries, including healthcare. More than half of patients prefer some type of electronic billing, and about 60 percent of patient payments are made online.
During the pandemic, about one-third of providers pivoted to contactless payment methods. However, paper-based bills and manual processes for payment notifications and collections are still prevalent for many physician practices.
To improve collections, remain competitive and encourage patient engagement, providers can continue the trend of offering contactless payment. They can employ innovative mobile payment features to improve cash flow, decrease collection fees and reduce write-offs. The specific patient payment processes they use should meet consumer demand while supporting the organization’s revenue cycle.
Any payment software solution should include an integrated credit card reader and/or technology to ensure payment is seamless. Providers should be able to display a range of options, from self-pay and pay later to minimum percentages required to complete the check-in process. Similarly, patients should have the capability to review their co-pays and outstanding balances during check-in and set up a credit card on file for annual payment contracts, to cover co-insurance obligations or to make payments.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Defined as personal health and medical data collection from an individual in one location which is transmitted via electronic communication technologies to a provider in a different location for use in care and related support, remote patient monitoring (RPM) uses various devices to track essential vital signs and procure other patient data. Healthcare providers of all sizes, from small physician practices to large health systems, can employ RPM to offer contactless care to treat different populations, including individuals with chronic conditions.
RPM programs can be utilized to provide educational content and remind patients to collect their vitals. This gives doctors and other clinicians the ability to leverage that data to provide patients with better feedback about their condition(s) and treatment. It also enables them to reduce the risk of infection in their office and better reach patients living in rural areas.
Other advantages of RPM include ease of access to patient data, earlier interventions, delay or prevention of complications from disease and a reduction in long-term costs associated with complications. Such costs consist of those for evaluations, testing or procedures.
RPM services don’t necessitate interactive audio-video and virtual visits and are reimbursed by Medicare without any additional requirements on the originating site of care. Plus, they offer another way to increase revenue, even during seasonal virus outbreaks.
The average no-show rate across all medical specialties is 23 percent, costing the healthcare industry $150 billion annually. For single-physician medical practices, no-shows cost an average of $150,000 annually.
Automated communication in the form of HIPAA-compliant two-way text messaging can help prevent patients from forgetting about an appointment. Medical practices proactively attempting to minimize no-shows can reduce the number of them by up to 70 percent. These text messages also can be used to remind patients of upcoming clinical appointments, laboratory monitoring and other scheduled services, a move that may be associated with improved efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare.
Similarly, a patient engagement solution integrated with an EHR can automate many of the care access steps for the patient, including provider selection, appointment scheduling, check-in and registration and practice communication for both in-office and telehealth visits. This use of technology for contactless care also allows providers to spend more time on direct patient care and staff to concentrate on other job duties.
As with the use of automated communication, patient portals can be utilized by healthcare providers to minimize patient no-shows and cancellations. They allow for online appointment scheduling, which may aid in higher patient retention rates, especially when the average physician practice misses 34 percent of calls.
Research shows that the average time for a patient to complete a scheduling call is 8.1 minutes, and agents transfer patient calls 63 percent of the time. Primary care practices in the U.S. receive an estimated 150-300 calls per week, approximately 30-40 percent of which are to schedule an appointment.
Secure and HIPAA-compliant patient portals give healthcare consumers access to contactless care along with quick and easy access to their own health information, from physician visit and discharge summaries to medications, immunizations, allergies and laboratory results. They can be used to conduct telehealth appointments, request prescription refills, drive online payment and offer patients increased flexibility in paying their provider bills.
For provider staff members, patient portals streamline administrative tasks, including the patient registration process, and increase their efficiency. Staff experience a notably lower call volume and have the ability to quickly deliver laboratory test results without repeated phone calls. One study reported that patients who establish a relationship with their providers via a patient portal are more likely to return to that provider.
Jim Wallis, Epion Health’s channel partnerships manager, has been helping medical practices implement software in various ways for more than 15 years. Over that time, he’s experienced some excellent go-lives – and others that are opportunities for learning and improvement. Following are what he considers the top ten steps any healthcare provider should consider prior to go-live for an effective and smooth implementation of a new technology platform, including those used for contactless care:
- Nominate your Super User. Implementing new organization-wide software is not a one-person job, but having a “Super User” who can attend all conference calls, read the training manuals and filter support questions to the vendor can help. How do you know whether or not someone is a good Super User? If they feel confident enough in the software to be able to train the rest of the team on the platform, they’re the right one for the job!
- Speak to someone who has previously used the platform. Any reliable platform has all-star clients. Ask to speak with one. My company makes sure we have references on hand not just for sales but for go-live advice as well.
- Announce your go-live date. Make sure there isn’t anyone on the team, from the CMO to part-time staff, who isn’t aware of the exact date of go-live. Don’t forget to count folks who are on leave or vacation. You should even consider narrowing the announcement down to the hour of the go-live, not just the day. If staff is caught off-guard, it can kill widespread adoption.
- Make training required, and hold staff accountable. Remote training is the new reality. The old reality—that’s never going to change—is that teams often need to be trained at separate times. At-random or opt-in scheduling allows reluctant staff to slip through the cracks. You need to establish a strict training schedule and require each staff member not only to sign up but also to “confirm” he or she completed training afterward.
- Reward your staff. Offering incentives of any size for staff to attend training can be extremely helpful. If you can’t bring in lunch for the team, consider something like candy and snacks. You’ll be amazed at the positive response!
- Prep the room. If you are holding a web-based session (e.g., Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams), do your best to log on before the meeting and test the sound and displays. Similarly, if you’re hosting it in person, arrive before the training session to confirm the sound, display, lights and A/V are working properly and the room is a pleasant temperature. This can make training much more effective and get it done on time. This may sound obvious, but it’s rarely done.
- No need to apologize. Signs that read: “Excuse our mess while we implement a new system” are not necessary. In fact, they can lower expectations of patients and staff. Instead, consider the impact of showing patients and staff your strong confidence in your implementation team and software partner, and start day one as you hope day 30 will go. This confidence is contagious; within a month, you’ll see you have a smooth process.
- Use the buddy system. If you have a staff member who seems to be having a hard time with the new process or training, partner them with someone on your team who is picking it up quickly. This is a great way for those who need a little more time to learn to see the process in action. It also provides them with a one-on-one learning environment to give them time to be more open to the message of change. And who knows—you may find your next super-user for the next project in the process!
- Make a big bang. It might sound scary, but if you are implementing multiple systems, I recommend that you go live with them all at the same time. It will make for a more effective go-live, reduce the length and impact of change on staff and increase the likelihood of adoption for all new systems. Just be sure to establish clear lines of support communication with each vendor with whom you’re working. For example, don’t send questions about check-in to your radiology vendor.
- Go All-in. Make sure you don’t go live and have only some patients try the new system while others do things the old way. Why, you ask? Patients will probably find it strange, and more importantly, it will undercut the message of training and cause unnecessary confusion. Staff will walk away from day one asking themselves which patients should use the new system and which ones shouldn’t. Remember, we want to always start day one as close to how you want days 30, 60 and 365 to look.
- (BONUS!) Don’t wait. During a busy go-live, there is a tendency for practices to escalate issues to vendors at the end of the workday. At this point, the vendor might not be available to get answers to your questions or respond with a solution until the next morning. Meanwhile, employees’ faith in the new system declines. Set a schedule to post current issues for midday if they can’t be reported as they occur—sounds like a job for your superuser!
Most importantly, make sure your software partner is exactly that: a partner to you and your practice. Know that you can lean on them for advice, assistance and expertise as you take the leap to see the strong, positive impact digital tools can have on your organizational goals. Also, vet your software partner heavily on their ability to provide great customer service, not just during the sales process but during implementation, go-live and beyond.
Access to healthcare isn’t guaranteed for all Americans, especially those facing multiple barriers to care, not all of which are financial. Well-documented barriers to health include race and ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sex or sexual orientation, intellectual and physical disability, location, age, language, national origin and immigration status, incarceration status, religion and cultural beliefs, socioeconomic status, and health literacy and ability to access information.
Other top obstacles to patient care access are limited appointment availability and office hours, clinician shortage issues and transportation barriers. Healthcare providers can utilize digital technology to utilize contactless care to offer enhanced patient education, increase access to care for rural populations and address behavioral health issues.
The American Academy of Family Physicians defines patient education as the process of influencing patient behavior and producing the changes in knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to maintain or improve health. Research has found that the potential for improved health outcomes through patient education is immense.
Patient education can include information about conditions and treatments or how to navigate the healthcare system. Patients must have a deep understanding of the impact healthy interventions can have on their present and long-term health and should use the educational process to make rational health choices.
Delivering patient education through connected devices can add value to the patient experience. One report indicated that 64 percent of mobile adopters see patient education through apps and material delivery as a key driver of their adoption plans.
A study that investigated the effectiveness of a patient education hub which aggregated multiple sources found that patients who used the educational portal displayed better health. Strategies for providing effective patient education include:
- Taking advantage of educational technology
- Determining the patient’s learning style
- Stimulating the patient’s interest
- Considering the patient’s limitations and strengths
- Including family members in health care management
Using mobile technology to promote contactless care also offers a way for healthcare providers to share health information to low health literate audiences. This method addresses social determinants of health (SDOH), which the World Health Organization (WHO) defines as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age and circumstances that are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels.” Two of the five domains of SDOH are access to healthcare and education.
Another option for providers looking to enhance patient communications is a patient services platform presented within the check-in workflow, which gives providers the ability to present meaningful services to patients from best-in-class partners. It can be used to communicate the availability of meaningful services that are helpful to both patients and providers, including medication adherence, prescription delivery, patient finance and transportation, clinical trial recruitment, behavioral health and more.
About 46 million (20 percent) U.S. residents live in rural counties. According to the Rural Health Information Hub, hospitals serving rural areas face the following challenges:
- Rural residents are older, poorer and more likely to have chronic diseases than urban residents.
- Rural hospitals are typically smaller than urban hospitals.
- Rural hospitals provide a higher percentage of care in outpatient settings and are more likely to offer home health, skilled nursing and assisted living, all of which have lower Medicare margins than inpatient care.
- Rural hospitals rely more heavily on reimbursement from public programs, whose payments fall short of costs.
To overcome these obstacles, many healthcare providers located in rural communities employ technology that can be utilized to offer contactless care. For example, telehealth enables rural residents to receive a higher quality of care. It also promotes continuity of care through real-time communication, responsive concern and reduced admissions.
Another technology benefiting rural U.S. residents is mobile health (mHealth), defined as “the use of mobile and wireless devices to improve health outcomes, healthcare services and health research.” In addition to allowing rural providers to communicate with their patients and colleagues no matter their location, it gives residents in rural areas increased access to physicians, health records, patient education and other services.
Behavioral and Mental Health
Mental health, which is described as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life and work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community, is included under the category of behavioral health. Behavioral health focuses on how habits and behaviors such as eating, drinking or exercising, affect physical or mental health.
Although there is sometimes a stigma associated with it, approximately 44 million U.S. adults (18 percent of the total population) deal with mental illness. Those who deal with mental conditions or illnesses often wait an average of 10 years after the onset of symptoms to procure treatment. Patients with behavioral health conditions also are more likely than those with physical health problems to end up seeing out-of-network physicians.
According to research, integrating behavioral health into the primary care setting can reduce depression scores by up to 50 percent. A way to achieve the benefit through contactless care is with telehealth. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) notes that telehealth interventions produce positive outcomes when used for remote patient monitoring for several chronic conditions and for psychotherapy as part of behavioral health.
Through telehealth, behavioral and mental health providers are typically able to achieve comprehensive therapy sessions with patients through these methods without a discernible change in quality of care. When used with veterans, telehealth (telepsychiatry) has been shown to decrease psychiatric hospitalizations by 31 percent, increase access to and referrals for care, reduce travel burdens and decrease symptoms of PTSD.
As this industry-wide conversation evolves, this page will further explore how contactless care impacts the patient journey and offer keys to success in delivering accessible care.
Learn how Epion Health can partner with you as your all-in-one technology solution to help you and your organization provide contactless care.