How Healthcare Organizations are Implementing Innovative Virtual-First Care Models

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‍Health care is changing faster than ever, and many organizations embrace virtual-first care. However, most hospitals and primary care practices still operate with a brick-and-mortar model. Virtual first care provides patient-centered care in an interactive video conference (IVC) environment before moving them to a traditional setting for follow-up care or resuming their long-term treatment plan at a different facility. Virtual first care can be as simple as having your patient’s family or nurse call ahead to confirm that they will have access to their loved one today or checking them into the same facility while they are out of town. The more common scenarios include patients who need to be seen within 24 hours of traveling from another city. Patients who prefer to check in early in the hospital can get settled into their room before other patients arrive. Patients prefer home visits so they can leave with their loved ones immediately after seeing their doctor.

COVID-19 has led many consumers to turn to virtual health as their first point of access to primary health care. While hospitals, as well as health systems and disruptors in healthcare, were expanding virtual care to satisfy demand, health insurance plans could take action in a separate direction.

Employers, as well as self-insured ones which cover over 100 million Americans, are rapidly creating so-called “virtual-first” healthcare plans. These programs aren’t able to be defined by a unifying definition but have some common characteristics such as:

  • The emphasis should be on primary care, with online care being the first source of communication.
  • Implementing informatics using claims data and other sources to give valuable insights for plans regarding utilization.
  • Active care coordination, with concierge-style help to direct patients to the appropriate location and low-cost, high-quality providers (excluding hospital-based doctors from the procedure).
  • Health coaches are integrated clinically to assist patients in taking ownership of their goals in health and achieving them.

What is Driving the Need for Virtual-first Care?

Healthcare costs are rising at a rate that surpasses inflation every year. While these costs are increasing, the demand for healthcare services is growing even faster. Healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP is expected to increase by over 8% by 2023. Health systems are expanding the number of visits, especially urgent care, and urgent medical conditions. There is significant interest in virtual care models as a cost-effective way to expand services while lowering costs. While the need for virtual care is driven by the healthcare industry’s growing healthcare needs, it is also driving the adoption of new technologies that can enable the delivery of care using video.

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How Healthcare Organizations are Implementing Innovative Virtual-first Care Models

Physicians are using virtual care to provide care to patients who are reluctant to visit the doctor’s office or hospital. With video technology being rolled out, virtual care can effectively help patients unwilling to come in for care, like frequent or routine visits. The benefits of virtual care include the following:

  • Flexibility.
  • Accessibility for all members of the healthcare team.
  • Cost savings can be used to reinvest in additional care.

While virtual care is typically used to help patients with routine visits, it can also provide care for patients with more severe conditions.

The Benefits of Virtual-first Care and Why You Should Consider It Too

The ability to improve access to care, lower costs, and make care more accessible to patients with disabilities is one of the many benefits of virtual first care. Virtual first care can help patients with disabilities who are reluctant to visit a doctor’s office or have difficulty traveling due to their condition. In addition to being more accessible, virtual care can help reduce wait times for healthcare services by allowing patients to see their providers when they are ready, reducing the number of patients waiting longer than necessary. 

How to Start a Virtual-first Care Program in Your Organization

Start with a thorough assessment of your patient’s needs and preferences. Next, determine how virtual care could help address those needs. For example, if your organization is seeing an increase in the number of patients who need urgent care, virtual care can allow you to see those patients when they are ready, reducing wait times for other patients. Next, identify key stakeholders, such as the physicians, nurses, and staff working with patients using virtual care. Next, consider how your organization can support patients and physicians who are using virtual care. For example, you can have instructions in advance on how to log into the virtual care platform, so physicians don’t feel like they need to learn on the fly. Finally, start piloting virtual care for select patients. While there is no silver bullet when implementing a new program, these steps can help make the transition smoother.

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The Move to a Hybrid Ecosystem

Around 15 percent of large or midsize employers with self-funded health insurance plans are planning to offer a virtual-first service in the next year, and another 20% are looking at adding a plan in the near future. The market is moving fast toward an integrated primary care system.

A brick-and-mortar or virtual-only model can be effective. A hybrid system must be designed to provide beneficiaries with a seamless, easy method of accessing care across the two points of contact. Every player will require an intelligent digital front door to get patients the treatment they require.

It requires cooperation and resources on all sides to incorporate the various digital healthcare tools in use, from tele-behavioral to e-triage to electronic prescribing, etc. — and to investigate the possibility of sharing data between partners. Also, artificial intelligence and natural language processing software could be significant factors in information generation.

Patients are more likely to follow the recommendations of their medical doctors and their team members, and plans to include the latter in leading patients through the front door of healthcare will have been created.

3 Takeaways for Hospital-Based Providers

1. Consider whether you can offer an online-first service.

Consider how you fit into the latest referral model. What is the easiest way for people using the internet to access your doorway and swiftly get to where they want to go? The user experience will be vitally crucial as health plans continue to change and beneficiaries assume a bigger part in determining their healthcare costs and deciding when they should select virtual visits instead of personal visits.

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2. Explore partnerships.

The number of disruptors in the field of virtual care has grown from an enumeration a few years ago to a number hundred in the present. Employers have a hard to evaluate such a huge variety of players. They want to establish relationships with the most skilled caregivers who provide the most value.

3. The focus should be on equity, diversity, and inclusiveness (DEI).

The results of surveys show that this is an essential concern for CEOs in general, Faircloth notes, and they want to make sure that their benefits programs, as well as the service providers with whom they collaborate, can help further their DEI objectives. The issue is that many vulnerable communities don’t have access to technology that is digital.

Wrapping Up

Healthcare is undergoing a transition, with many organizations implementing models of care that are virtual first. The ability to improve access to care, lower costs, and make care more accessible to patients with disabilities is one of the many benefits of virtual first care. Virtual care can help patients who are reluctant to visit a doctor’s office or have difficulty traveling due to their condition. In addition to being more accessible, virtual care can help reduce wait times for healthcare services by allowing patients to see their providers when they are ready, reducing the number of patients waiting longer than necessary. The benefits of virtual care are significant and can help reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of care for patients. Virtual care is worth considering if your organization is exploring options for how to provide care in the future.

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