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Challenges and Opportunities in Virtual Care — Are You In?

In our recent Benchmark Survey Report, we examined some of the trends that are shaping how healthcare organizations are deploying virtual care solutions. We examined the opportunities that exist for new players to get into the game, as well as how those that are already playing can expand their offerings. We also dove into some of the challenges that are being felt throughout the industry – whether in the day-to-day management of currently deployed virtual care platforms or the challenges that are expected by those that have yet to launch any telemedicine services. One thing was clear from our survey however, as virtual care continues to advance, the opportunities that exist in the industry greatly outweigh the challenges.

We’ve Come a Long Way

The truth is virtual care is nowhere near where it was 10 years ago, or even just last year for that matter. For example, our Benchmark Survey indicates that while the industry still leans heavily on video – one of the more traditional modes of careModality Type Deployment, video alone isn’t sufficient to meet the changing needs of today’s patients and providers. Because of this, many are turning to multi-modal care, with 61% of health systems reporting they offer more than one mode of care today. Which of these is gaining the most momentum? Believe it or not, it’s chat, with 44% of health systems saying they expect to include chat in their virtual care launch.

As technology changes, the clinical impact that these platforms provide also improves. Our study shows that virtual care solutions have the power to impact both clinical quality and efficiency. Quality reporting has always been difficult for healthcare providers, but 33% of survey respondents say their technology provider offers a reporting and analytics solution and 30% say their technology provider offers scheduled or ad hoc reporting. At the same time, virtual care is enabling providers to shorten patient visits by as much as 15 minutes – from the current patient visit average which is approximately 16 minutes to between one and five minutes, as reported in our survey. I don’t know about you but the ability to make five or ten times the health impact is an amazing opportunity I would not want to miss out on!

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

As much as virtual care has evolved, there are still hurdles that we need to get over before we can realize the adoption rates that we seek. What’s fascinating however is that the actual challenges providers face in their day-to-day operations are different from those that respondents anticipate they’ll encounter, which include integration, patient utilization, and claim management. Diving into each of these a bit deeper:

  • Program ChallengesIntegration – EMR integration specifically, has long been a pain point for providers and our research shows that this is only growing as an important focus area as virtual care adoption moves into the mainstream. About 21% of survey respondents who have virtual care identify lack of EMR integration as a challenge, even though 42% say their service doesn’t integrate with the EMR at all. That’s in comparison to the fact that nearly 54% of our survey respondents expect EMR integration to be a major challenge.
  • Patient Utilization – There’s still a bit of a “Field of Dreams” assumption to virtual care, despite research from multiple sources, including a 2018 Deloitte study, showing slow adoption. If you don’t believe me, just look at the disparity in the number of respondents in our survey who identified patient utilization as a challenge. Only 31% of those without a virtual care solution, compared to 64% of those with a virtual care service already deployed.
  • Managing Claims – We also saw an under-realization of the challenges associated with managing claims and reimbursement. In fact, only 15% of respondents without a virtual care solution thought that this would be a top challenge, versus the 39% of those with virtual care services who acknowledged this obstacle. The truth is, the healthcare revenue cycle has many parts, making it difficult to manage. Increased integration of virtual care solutions with EMRs and other legacy systems are important and can help make your life a lot easier.

What Lies Ahead

As patients, providers and as those with a stake in the virtual care industry, we should feel encouraged by the opportunities we have at our fingertips. Our survey shows that nearly 100% of health systems expect utilization to increase in the next 12 months – and that’s great news for everyone! So where should we focus our efforts and what can we expect? Undoubtedly, there are many applications for virtual care, but there’s a growing desire for it to be used for more complex conditions, with a big focus on behavioral health. However, to realize this in an effective way, we need increased collaboration between the technology companies that are creating the virtual care solutions and the health systems that are deploying them.

Regardless, the fact that we’re seeing such confidence from health systems when it comes to expanding their virtual care offerings in the coming year, signals to us that the industry is ripe for incredible growth. And it’s about time! Virtual care has long suffered from slow adoption rates, brought on by patients who were hesitant about leaving their trusted physicians and providers who were weary of expected financial and technological barriers. But virtual care doesn’t have to be scary and as our survey shows, many organizations have skewed ideas about the challenges that actually exist in the industry. To overcome this perception, we must educate patients and providers about the opportunities associated with virtual care, while continuing to focus on improving the patient experience. Though technology vendors may provide the platform, I believe, it’s with health systems, who are in a unique position to confidently vouch for the integrity of virtual care, and effectively market the service to truly increase adoption expand access to quality health care.

Interested in learning more about the On-Demand Virtual Care Benchmark Report?

We called out our key business, technology, and clinical findings, discussed what they mean for virtual care in 2019, and hosted an open discussion about the research in our latest webinar: Top Virtual Care Trends for 2019.

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HIMSS19: A Sunny Outlook for Virtual Care

Sunny Outlook for Virtual Care

Last week, myself and some of our Zipnosis team had the privilege of attending HIMSS19 in Orlando, Florida – a global conference bringing together over 45,000 health information and technology professionals, clinicians, executives and market suppliers. Due to the rapid changes in today’s current healthcare climate, this year’s event had a strong focus on innovative ways to improve the patient experience, monitor the patient journey and drive synergy across the industry. In the face of change, the brightest minds convened on ways to generate new efficiencies while improving levels of convenience, safety and accessibility across the healthcare continuum.

As innovation builds, policy changes and trends surface. Sometimes this can make the healthcare industry look cloudy at best. Below are three major takeaways from HIMMS19, giving way to a much sunnier forecast, especially when it comes to the evolution of virtual care:

Utilizing Data in a Turbulent Atmosphere

Often times, salient trends are a direct result of major legislation. Day 1 at HIMSS19, the Trump administration released its proposed interoperability and data blocking rules. It’s no coincidence that a major theme at the conference this year revolved around the idea of data-sharing and new technologies to support the free flow of data between patients and physicians. As data is integrated and utilized, it’s vital that it also be safe guarded.

Cybersecurity and the idea of securing actionable data was a prominent theme at HIMSS19. When it comes to virtual care, both the exchange and safety of patient data is key. We need to assure patients that their health data will be used responsibly, while also finding new ways to free data previously locked in silos to do our part to advance population health and provide more personalized care.

Making it a Breeze to Personalize the Patient Experience

Another major theme prevalent at HIMSS19 was the overarching idea of empowering patients to make more informed decisions about their health. What patients want today, is interactions that are as specific and personalized as possible, but also innately human. Ironically, humans alone often struggle to create the type of personalized experiences that patients today crave. As such, wearables and other devices were once again prevalent at this year at HIMSS, with many innovators demonstrating how these technologies are empowering patients to take control of health experiences.

Leaning on AI and innovation to continue to address complexities across the healthcare continuum is something we will continue to see more of as personalization becomes increasingly important. For virtual care, adaptive interviews are a game-changer: asking patients only the most relevant questions determined by demographic information and previous responses. Aside from the convenience of virtual care, patients also receive personalized and clinically impactful interactions that are synonymous with the typical doctor’s visit to keep that human touch alive and well.

Spotting the Reimbursement Rainbow

As strategies to engage patient populations change, it’s important to consider the impact of these programs on reimbursement models, which are shifting to accommodate the rise of virtual care. At HIMSS19, while various sessions focused on the power of technology to improve patient care outcomes, many also focused on helping providers execute on a future-forward vision. Improving payment accuracy and developing a reimbursement strategy that is supportive of new technologies is essential to changing the public perception of newer methodologies. Capturing reimbursements that prop up provider budgets as justified by the utilization of virtual care will be essential moving forward.

HIMSS19 made it quite apparent that the healthcare industry is changing rapidly to make patient/provider interactions more personable, streamlined, cost-effective and more efficient than ever before. In today’s digital age, it’s important to consider how our strategies and processes can be enhanced with innovation. While a storm of change is inevitable amidst intense innovation and policy modifications, like with every storm, once it’s over the sky and our future will become clear once again.

Healthcare Disruption + Competition Part 1: The New Wild West

What comes to mind when you think about the Wild West? Clint Eastwood swaggering through swinging saloon doors? Stagecoach heists and train robberies? Whatever you learned about pioneer life playing The Oregon Trail in elementary school?

These are all intrinsically linked with the Wild West’s zeitgeist, but I see it a bit differently. Discarding the concept of manifest destiny, this was THE era of unbridled American opportunity. Homesteading pioneers, ranchers, and gold-rushers—the entrepreneurs of the mid-1800s—all flocked to the American West with dreams of making their fortunes. And many succeeded.

Virtual Care’s Wild West

Virtual care is the digital frontier. Smartphones are our stagecoaches. Cloud-based services are our picks and axes; reliable in their errand but indifferent to the outcome. Sleek apps and user interfaces are the 6-shooters brought into battle. True, no one is dying of dysentery (hopefully) on their virtual care journey. But, the gunfights at high noon are just as real (if not as bloody). The early prospectors must always watch their backs or have the smell of another, sexier app, be their last.   

Analogies aside, an article in the December issue of Health Affairs paints a wild-west landscape clearly – from innovation, to competition, to opportunity. It got me thinking about how this retailization of telemedicine is changing the face of healthcare—and how this disruptive shift in competition is likely to impact health systems.

Go West, Well, Everyone!

The other day, I read an article in Vox about how CrossFit is “amassing an army of doctors to disrupt healthcare.” Seriously. CrossFit. And that is just the latest in established players outside the healthcare space looking for ways to upend healthcare delivery. Amazon, Apple and Google have all thrown their hats into the healthcare ring.

Earlier this year, Amazon announced a healthcare focused partnership with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway aimed at streamlining care for their self-insured populations. Apple increasingly offers health tracking functionality in their wearable and personal technology products and has been hiring doctors—as many as 50 over the past few years, according to CNBC. And Google’s parent company Alphabet recently moved to combine its DeepMind AI and healthcare businesses. Even social media platform Facebook made waves this spring with its foray into healthcare with its heavy handed, but certainly interesting exploration of how they could link social health determinants to actual patient health records.

These industry outsiders aren’t the only ones making waves in healthcare. Closer to home for health systems, retail clinics and pharmacies are working to grab a bigger piece of consumers’ healthcare spending. Retailers like CVS and Walgreens were early to jump on the retail clinic bandwagon, and are branching into other convenient care avenues, including telemedicine and virtual care.

For example, this summer, Walgreens launched a digital health service geared toward patients that connects them with direct-to-consumer telemedicine companies and a few regionally select provider organizations. And just the other day, I read an article in Becker’s about how they’re partnering with Verily – Alphabet’s life sciences subsidiary.  Likewise, CVS’ Minute Clinic now offers video visits through the CVS app – a service that connects exclusively with their telemedicine vendor, and Walmart launched a telemedicine initiative just this past October.

The Healthcare Disruption Gold Rush

These organizations are moving quickly to grab a piece of the action in healthcare for one specific reason: there is opportunity here. Healthcare in the U.S. is a $3 trillion (and growing) industry, and one that hasn’t yet reaped the benefits of the digital revolution. That means the race is still open to become the Amazon of healthcare – in fact, if you read the last section, you know Amazon is interested in becoming just that.

It may sound daunting, but it’s also exhilarating. The prairies of perverse economics are wide and hostile; the mountains of data silos foreboding. And technology giants, retail pharmacies, and non-traditional care delivery systems are all crowding the dusty trails of the true pioneers.  Next up, I’ll give you my two cents on how health systems can evolve to maintain their primacy – and win in the new Wild West.

The Importance of “Soft” Value in Virtual Care ROI

Measuring return on investment – whether that comes from realized cost savings, direct revenue or long-term revenue – is important when building a business case for virtual care. If you want to get into that, we’ve got plenty of material for you (here, here and here).

A lot of time is spent discussing hard numbers with customers, so it’s easy to lose track of the softer side of ROI – what’s known as “blue sky” or “soft” value. While more difficult to measure and quantify, the softer side of ROI is just as important for organizational success. Soft value includes things like market perception, brand reputation, employee engagement and customer (or patient, in this case) satisfaction.

Virtual Care and Soft Value

So, what does that have to do with virtual care? A lot. Virtual care is a key component in strategies that impact those less measurable, but still incredibly important, value drivers, including brand positioning, provider satisfaction, and patient satisfaction and experience.

Brand Position

When I’m speaking with customers, they often tell us that how their brand is perceived in the marketplace is of enormous importance to them. A well-publicized virtual care offering can help healthcare organizations position themselves as patient-friendly, convenience-focused, and technologically savvy. With a recent survey of patients finding that more than half of millennials would choose a provider who offers virtual care over one who does not, the brand impact of a virtual care solution can be the difference between patient acquisition and patient attrition.

Provider Satisfaction

In a world where provider burnout is front and center, finding ways to maximize provider satisfaction is critical. Providers remain skeptical about virtual care and adoption is slow—just 18% of physicians are interested in adding virtual visits to their practice, according to a recent Deloitte survey. However, patients are increasingly interested in virtual visits, with 57% indicating interest in online doctor visits, according to the same survey. Finding virtual tools to facilitate patient care that don’t add to providers’ workloads is critical. Virtual care, specifically store-and-forward or asynchronous modes of care, can lighten providers’ workloads while still enabling them to care for more patients. At Zipnosis, we’ve seen customers with provider satisfaction rates as high as 100% (top 3 box on a scale of 1-10).

“Zipnosis allows me to provide excellent treatment for patients with low-acuity health issues that can safely be managed without an in-person provider visit.”

-Virtual Care Provider

Patient Satisfaction and Experience

Spoiler Alert: In our soon-to-be-released On-Demand Virtual Care Survey Report, our team found that patient satisfaction was the most selected success metric across all respondents. Moreover, looking at the virtual care program goals, patient experience and satisfaction were the most selected reasons for launching a virtual care service. By launching virtual care health systems are demonstrating commitment to making healthcare work for their patients, instead of making patients work to get healthcare. This is vital in enhancing patients’ experience with the health system and their overall satisfaction.

Maximizing Value from Virtual Care

One of the things we tell customers is that their virtual care service is only as good as the marketing behind it. Realizing the benefits of soft value – as with hard ROI – means spreading the word about virtual care, with the greatest success coming to health systems that combine seasonal marketing campaigns with providers recommending the service to their patients in-clinic.

After all, it’s impossible for patients to experience the convenience and satisfaction of a virtual encounter if they don’t know it’s available. Your health system’s brand won’t be known as an innovative leader in care delivery if the marketplace isn’t aware of the innovative services on offer. And, your physicians, NPs and PAs won’t find satisfaction with a platform that their patients aren’t using.

Soft value is a real, if less tangible, benefit of launching virtual care. Health systems that want to build their brand, enhance patient experience, and support provide satisfaction would be wise to consider adding virtual care or leveraging their existing service to meet their goals.

5 Best Practices for Assembling a Virtual Care Steering Committee

Increasingly, health systems working to assemble high-functioning steering committees to guide their virtual care strategy and service, but overall the industry is lagging behind in creating the cross-functional teams needed to drive virtual care success. Part of what is holding health systems back may be the challenges surrounding identifying and assembling a virtual care steering committee. Great news: here are a few simple steps you can take to make sure your steering committee is set up for success.

1. Get Representation from All Key Stakeholder Groups

Virtual care is optimally part of a larger digital health and patient experience strategy, and bringing together key stakeholders across the organization is key to ensuring the right voices are heard. At a minimum, this means representation from any effected care specialties, clinical leadership, IT/technology, strategic leadership, and a liaison from the day-to-day operations team.

Virtual Care Steering Committee Structure

2. Identify and Invite Your Champions

In every organization there are people who are excited about new initiatives. Seek out your virtual care champions for your steering committee. The people who see the possibility and potential of virtual care are fit guardians for your virtual care service and strategy. They’re also the people who will go to bat for virtual care, and be willing to spend the time necessary to make sure your organization gets it right.

3. Have Clear Goals and Responsibilities

Clarity is the key to your steering committee’s success. Do you want your steering committee laser focused on strategy or do you want the members to hold responsibility for operations? Do you want them to make decisions or provide recommendations? Will the committee set goals for your virtual care program or merely be responsible for achieving them?

To help make sure that your organization and committee members know what’s expected, create a committee charter that outlines the precise level and limits of authority, areas of responsibility, and committee objectives. Then, review the charter on a regular basis – annually works well – to make sure it still aligns with what your organization needs.

4. Include Decision-Making Power

A committee that can’t take action isn’t going to do your health system or your virtual care service much good. Within the defined goals and responsibilities, make sure that there are members empowered to take action and affect changes. Virtual care is an investment, and a steering committee needs to have the authority to allocate budget to achieve your health system’s virtual care goals.

5. Avoid Groupthink

This ties back to best practice #2, but make sure you have different voices on your steering committee. A group working closely together needs to include diverse opinions and ways of thinking to avoid the dreaded groupthink. While champions are valuable, so are voices of doubt – even dissent. When assembling your virtual care steering committee, make sure to include at least one person who will pressure-test ideas and ask the tough questions necessary to ensure your program’s success.

Healthcare’s STD Infection Crisis – How Virtual Care Can Help

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in the U.S. climbed for the fifth year in a row. The newly released data prompted a call for federal intervention at the 2018 STD Prevention Conference. This begs the question, how did we get here? And more importantly, what can we do about it?

STD Infection by the Numbers

In 2015, the American Sexual Health Association noted that rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis reached a record high. And they’ve kept growing from there.

Preliminary CDC data from 2017 shows a 31% growth rate in diagnoses of these three common STDs since 2013. Individually, diagnosed cases of gonorrhea increased 67% and syphilis 76%. Chlamydia didn’t see quite the same rate of increase, but it remains the most common of these conditions with more than 1.7 million diagnosed cases in 2017.

Candy Hadsall, RN, MA, a prevention nurse specialist with the Minnesota Department of Health was at the conference and noted that the data wasn’t particularly surprising. “The CDC’s announcement that STD infection rates climbed again in 2017 just confirmed what we’re seeing in the field,” she said.

These numbers present a concerning – and initially, more than a little baffling – trend. After all, each of these infections is curable with appropriate antibiotic intervention, and the long-term effects of going untreated can be serious. So, why are infection rates continuing to grow?

The Root of the Problem

The factors influencing the increase in infections are complex and varied. A 2007 study in Sexually Transmitted Infections found an abundance of socio-demographic influences on infection rates, including race, income, gender, state of residence, age and history of incarceration. It also notes that attitudes toward sexual behavior and STD testing are prime factors in the diseases’ spread.

In the CDC’s recent announcement, Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention noted, “It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point.”

At its core, the STD infection crisis is driven by this combination of attitudinal, demographic, economic and healthcare infrastructure influences.

Virtual Care’s Role in Fighting STD Infection

One of the best ways to stem the tide of STD infection is by reducing access barriers to testing and treatment, and here is where virtual care shows its value. The ways that virtual care can help patients overcome common barriers to care like geography, time and cost is well-documented. When it comes to sensitive issues like sexually transmitted diseases, virtual care can help mitigate emotional barriers, as well.

In an interview with MedCity News, Geri Lynn Baumblatt (then of Emmi Solutions from Wolters Kluwer Health) noted that patients tend to “engage in impression management” when seeing their doctor. What that means is, they try to paint themselves in the best possible light – consciously or unconsciously – in an attempt to avoid judgement and shame. While Baumblatt was speaking specifically about addiction concerns, this concept translates to sexual behavior. A solution that doesn’t require a face-to-face discussion can often produce more honest answers about sexual behavior and STD risk.

Hadsall concurs that the feeling of anonymity could help patients overcome the shame and stigma associated with STD infection. She also notes that adequate resources are a challenge in STD screening. “It’s just not possible to effectively screen everyone who should be screened,” she said. “Even at very high infectivity rates of 10-15%, that’s still 85-90 out of 100 people who are screened and test negative. With an online screening option, we could do a lot more and potentially make a real dent in STD infections.”

A Virtual Solution

Image: Stop STD Infection

Understanding the value of lowering barriers to STD testing and treatment, we developed evidence based protocols to support health systems as they work to manage steeply climbing STD rates for their patient populations. Our expedited partner therapy protocol enables patients whose partner has been diagnosed with chlamydia to get treatment. As the most commonly diagnosed STD across the country, and the one that is most frequently asymptomatic, this facilitates quick, discreet care for patients – without even requiring a test. By lowering barriers to receiving care for known chlamydia exposure, health systems can help reduce the continued spread of chlamydia.

We also recently created an evidence-based virtual care STD testing protocol that gathers risk assessment data and enables patients to access lab tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. This protocol leverages lab integration workflows to capture patient information and seamlessly route them to a lab location for testing. Our aim is to help health systems use the asynchronous patient interview to overcome the embarrassment patients feel talking about STDs, potentially increasing the likelihood of individuals to seek testing.

The continued rise of STD infections is a complex issue, impacted by everything from socio-cultural norms to poverty rates and education to healthcare access. It may feel overwhelming, but looking at individual pieces can still make a sizable impact. There are many factors virtual care can’t impact. What we can do is help take the strain off of the systems currently unable to manage this growing health crisis and lowering barriers to STD testing and treatment.

Under the Hood: Developing and Maintaining Clinical Content for Virtual Care

One of the big compliments we receive from customers is around the strength of our proprietary clinical content that forms the foundation of our virtual care platform. This means a lot to our team. As individuals and as an organization, we maintain a rigorous focus on clinical quality, and that comes through in our algorithms and clinical protocols.

What you don’t necessarily get to see is the amount of work and expertise that goes into developing, maintaining and improving our clinical content. We have a full team of clinicians and informatics specialists devoted exclusively to creating and maintaining our protocols and clinical content – and their contribution to the Zipnosis platform is worth talking about.

Starting off with Clinical Content Development

When we launched the Zipnosis platform, we knew that the only way the technology would work is if it was backed by unassailable clinical content. Remember, this was 2008, and nothing like the Zipnosis platform had been available before. Store-and-forward virtual care was still considered the providence of provider-to-provider care, specifically in imaging for radiology, dermatology, pathology, etc. It definitely wasn’t considered a means for collecting patient-generated symptom and health history information for diagnosis and treatment of common, low-acuity conditions.

Our original clinical content was something truly brand new in the outpatient healthcare space. We started with an enormous quantity of clinical guidelines for in-person care and painstakingly translated them into a few targeted protocols for virtual care.

From those humble beginnings, we expanded our protocol library to support diagnosing and treating more than 90 conditions. Each one required not only research into the standard of care, but a reframing of what care delivery for that particular patient complaint means without lowering the standard.

Clinical Content: Care and Feeding

Considering the extensive amount of work that goes into developing clinical protocols, you may be surprised to learn that protocol maintenance and improvement is where our clinical content team truly shines. The truth is, once a protocol is built, that’s not the end of the work it requires. Like a pet, clinical content supporting virtual care requires constant care and feeding.

At Zipnosis we have a rigorous maintenance process that includes annual content reviews, during which our content team delves into the latest research to ensure that our protocols meet the standard of care and can offer the same or greater guideline adherence as in-person care.

We also closely monitor alerts and updates from the CDC, departments of health, and the FDA to ensure that the treatment recommendations are in line with the latest guidelines. These alerts don’t always align with our protocol review schedule, so we also update protocols on an ad hoc basis when guidelines change.

Clinical Content Beyond the Standard of Care

Our clinical content is the foundation on which the entire Zipnosis platform rests. That means its importance to the quality of care providers deliver through Zipnosis is critical, but it also means that clinical content has a major impact on patient experience.

We dig into how protocols are utilized by patients and consult with our customers to identify opportunities for enhancing our content. This is a more intensive process than our annual clinical reviews, looking at how patients experience the content.

    • Is the language clear, conversational and understandable?
    • Are we effectively conveying empathy?
    • How many questions do patients have to answer at maximum and minimum? Can we reduce the number of questions?
    • Where are patients being referred out of the online system and into our customers’ brick-and-mortar clinics?
  • Do the patient education information and questions match health literacy targets?

A full protocol enhancement project takes 10 weeks, and involves the clinical content team as well as people throughout Zipnosis – and even our customers. We perform a deep dive into how patients are interacting with the content, and make modifications – sometimes minor tweaks, sometimes major overhauls – to ensure patients are having a positive experience. And, through it all, we maintain that laser focus on the standard of care.

What’s Next for Zipnosis Content

As we expand the platform into new areas like surgical care and behavioral health, our clinical team just keeps blazing new trails. And, with our Clinical Quality Advisory Council’s assistance and input, our team is even better able to monitor and report on adherence to clinical guidelines. Keep your eyes peeled – there’s always more on the horizon.

Marketing Your Virtual Care Service – Digital Access Needs Digital Marketing

Question: What do car sales, tax preparation, and virtual care have in common? The answer – they all see greater success with a digital marketing strategy. These days, even durable goods and in-person services are finding that digital marketing is providing the greatest returns. And online services are even more likely to see value from employing digital strategies in their promotional efforts.

Why Market at All?

Before I launch into how to use digital marketing for virtual care, I want to touch on why you need to put energy – and even budget – behind marketing your virtual care service. Just having a service isn’t enough. Unlike digital care like telestroke or eICU, on-demand, urgent care-focused virtual care requires patient adoption to be successful. And patients can’t adopt a service if they don’t know about it. If you want to see success with your virtual care service, marketing is a must.

Digital Marketing for a Digital Service

In a digital world, not all marketing is created equal. In large part, life happens online. We get our news, entertainment and even a portion of our personal interactions online; many of us spend a good portion of our day at a computer, checking social media or doing some online shopping in our downtime. We use the internet to make appointments, book travel, and (of course) watch cat videos. With all this time spent online, it’s no wonder that digital marketing efforts are increasingly vital to all segments – healthcare included. With that in mind, here are the top digital channels to look at when building your virtual care marketing plan.

SEO / SEM

In digital marketing, we frequently joke that the best place to hide a body is on the second page of Google search results. And there’s some truth in that. The top 5 results in Google searches have a combined click-through rate (the percent of people who see the result and click to open the page) of 65.15%. Expanded to the top ten results, and the combined click-through rate is 99.88%.

To effectively capture patients who could benefit from your virtual care service, using keywords in your landing page and content along with paid search can help you drive traffic to your virtual care site. Paid search, in particular, is useful, since it can put your page in one of the top spots or just to the right of the top search results. You don’t need a huge budget – pick a few key search terms, add in some demographic information and set the amount you’re willing to spend each day – Google AdWords helps with the rest.

Email

Yes, email. 61% of people prefer email promotions to other forms of small business communication – including direct mail, mobile apps, and other promotional channels. What’s more, a focused, structured email campaign offers patients an easy way to access your virtual care service – through hyperlinks embedded throughout your email. No other digital platform lets you target and capture engagement reporting to your known population of subscribers quite like email marketing.

Social Media

Social channels offer different avenues to connect with patients and potential patients. Having a separate, but linked business page for your virtual care service can give patients a place to ask questions and get information about your offering. Likewise, using your primary Facebook or Twitter business account to share news and information about virtual care can help get those who are already engaged with your organization on board with your virtual care service.

Social media also provides an opportunity to purchase ads – often hyper-focused – to promote your service. Gaining understanding of the patients who are most likely to use your virtual care service can help you effectively target social media ads, giving you the best return for your digital marketing investment.

Website

Last, but definitely not least, is your organization’s website. If it’s been a while since your organization last reviewed or updated its website, now is a great time to do so. This is your most important marketing asset – both for your health system and your virtual care service. I won’t go into overall web best practices in this post, but using your website to effectively promote your virtual care service requires three things:

    1. Make virtual care accessible in several ways – include it in your topline navigation, link to it from your primary care or urgent care page, and promote it in a banner ad. The more ways for people to find the service, the more likely it is they will use it.

 

    1. Make it easy to find – remember how the top search results have the greatest click-through rates? It’s because they are the first things you see. Put information about your virtual care service “above the fold” on your website – it should be easily findable without scrolling or a lot of clicks.

 

  1. Banner ads and video – “advertising” your virtual care service on your website may seem awkward, but an eye-catching graphic is likely to drive more traffic to your service than a mountain of text. Likewise, videos are promotional gold – 85% of internet users engage with video content, and an embedded video on your website can do a lot to help drive virtual care interest and utilization.

Traditional Marketing’s Role

When marketing virtual care, a digital strategy is critical, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for more traditional marketing. Waiting room advertising, print ads, direct mail, and other more traditional elements help support your digital messaging and increase engagement. While not always the most important part of your marketing plan, these traditional avenues should not be ignored.

A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Considerations for Selecting a Virtual Care Partner

As the healthcare industry evolves, health systems are increasingly using online care delivery to help meet the changing needs of healthcare consumers. But choosing a virtual care partner can be challenging. How do you know you’re making the right choice for your health system?

While there’s no silver bullet, our experience partnering with health systems has uncovered 13 areas every health system should look at when selecting a virtual care partner. Check out our virtual care baker’s dozen:

Internal Factors

1.  Who Are Your Stakeholders?

It’s easy to identify key executives who need to be involved in selection of a virtual care solution and partner, but making the right choice involves more than just top levels. Understanding the impact virtual care has on stakeholders throughout the organization can help you choose the solution that best aligns with your health system’s needs. This is particularly important for those who will be expected to interact with the virtual care solution on a day-to-day basis. Involving front-line stakeholders – particularly clinicians – early in the process can help foster buy-in, create a smoother transition when it comes time to launch, and ultimately support program success.

2.  Your Health System’s Goals

Before you can effectively evaluate potential partners, it’s vital to understand why you are launching virtual care and how this initiative intersects with larger organizational objectives.

Measuring Success in Virtual Care

    • Are you looking to expand patient access?

 

    • Do you have capacity concerns?

 

    • Are you seeking ways to manage a challenging competitive environment?

 

    • Are you looking for new revenue channels?

 

    • Is saving on your employee health insurance costs a focus?

 

  • Do you want to support your brand and be viewed as a technology leader?

The answers to these questions will help form your virtual care strategy, which should be at the center of your partner selection process.

3.  Internal Processes

It’s also important to fully understand internal processes and clinical workflows. A best practice is to perform an evaluation of current processes looking at elements like patient experience, clinician workflow, billing and claims, etc. prior to selecting a virtual care partner. This can be a good time to revise processes and workflows that are no longer working well for your health system. Whether you choose to make process improvements or not, a comprehensive grasp of current processes will help you select a virtual care partner and solution that complements – rather than hinders – clinical operations.

4.  Virtual Care Program Requirements

Your virtual care strategy and understanding of processes and workflows will provide a guide to building out your list of requirements. Health systems often start out with a long wish-list and idealized version of how the virtual care program will run. Prior to beginning your search for a virtual care partner, it’s important to evaluate and prioritize program requirements and understand where and if you’re willing to compromise. For example, you may have to balance factors like staffing levels and budgets with choice of modality, or organizational objectives with regulatory constraints. Get your team on board with a list of must-haves, nice-to-haves, and things to avoid at all costs.

Company Information

5.  Leadership & Team

Virtual care is most often a “software-as-a-service” (or SaaS) solution, meaning that you’re purchasing the right to use the software, but the result you get is more service-based. That means the people you’ll be working with matter. During the evaluation process, try to interact with both company leadership and people directly responsible for day-to-day operations. Most importantly, be sure to get to know the person or team that will be supporting your account – they will be critical to your success.

6.  Financial & Organizational Stability

With the proliferation of virtual care and telemedicine companies flooding the market, it’s important to make sure your virtual care partner is experienced and stable. Ask potential partners about:

    • Current and anticipated funding – Make sure your potential partner has a solid financial foundation

 

    • Industry tenure – While length of time providing services shouldn’t be the number one determining factor, make sure you’re not choosing an untested, untried solution

 

    • Board membership – This ties in with company leadership, but a stable, well-functioning board is indicative of a stable, well-functioning company

 

  • Company growth – Look for an organization that demonstrates steady growth, but not one that is growing so quickly they may not be able to effectively serve current clients

7.  Business Model

Understanding a potential partner’s business model is an important part of the selection process. Many companies serving health systems also have a direct-to-consumer offering, which may or may not present a conflict of interest or otherwise impact the success of your partnership. When evaluating partners, ask yourself:

    • Do they market and sell telemedicine or virtual care services directly to patients, health plans, and employer groups?

 

    • How deep do their services go in serving patients directly? Might patients who use the service go directly to them for other care down the line?

 

  • And, most importantly, does their business model present a conflict for your organization?

Solution and Relationship

8.  Technology & Product Roadmap

Finding the right technology for your health system and your patients is a critical part of selecting a virtual care provider. You need to understand the differences between different modalities – phone, video, and store-and-forward. Each has a place and a use, so the technology solution you choose needs to align with your goals and strategy. You also want to look at how different solutions work within your current technology ecosystem – you don’t want to sign a contract only to find that the virtual care software is incompatible with your EMR, billing, and scheduling tools.

When choosing a partner, it’s also important to take a long view. Telemedicine and virtual care today looks different than it did 10 years ago, and as technology and the healthcare industry evolves, your virtual care solution needs to evolve with it.

9.  Service & Support

When purchasing a software solution or a service, it’s vital to understand what type of service and support is included in your purchase. Determine what services are important to you and make sure you have a full understanding of what each solution brings to the table.

Services to look for:

    • Implementation plan and support

 

    • Initial and ongoing training for administrators and clinicians

 

    • Reporting availability and metrics tracked

 

    • Technical support for all users – providers, administrators, and patients

 

    • Account management services and relationship support

 

    • Branding and white-labeling

 

  • Ongoing product roadmap and service scaling

10.  Clinical Quality

Evaluating the clinical quality of potential virtual care solutions is a critical element of partner selection. Clinicians need to be comfortable with the quality of care provided, patients need to feel they are receiving the best possible care, and regulators need to see that the standard of care is upheld across care delivery channels. Potential partners should be willing to:

    • Share quality reporting data – guideline adherence, antibiotic stewardship, etc.

 

    • Provide information on clinical protocol development

 

    • Demonstrate the features and functionality that ensure quality care

 

  • Outline the steps they are taking to support clinical quality across all customers

11.  Clinician & Patient Experience

As you’re evaluating solutions, consider how your patients and your staff will interact with the virtual care software. If you’re outsourcing clinical functions, where will the intersections be and who will need to manage them? If you’re staffing internally, understand how this will look, and how it will impact your clinical operations. More importantly, how will it impact your clinicians? A positive clinician experience can make or break a virtual care service.

Patient experience is equally important. Developing a fundamental understanding of who your patients are and what their lives look like is critical to selecting a virtual care partner and solution that will work for them. Things to look for include:

    • Ease of use

 

    • Accessible language

 

    • Process transparency

 

  • Expectation management

12.  Partnership Approach

Virtual care is a critical, strategic initiative, and to realize the greatest benefit you need more than just a vendor – you need a true partner. As you evaluate technologies, services, and solutions, keep your eyes peeled for clues indicating which companies are truly committed to your success.Virtual Care Partnership

    • Ask for stories about how potential partners have helped their customers overcome specific challenges, or ways they’ve met an unexpected customer need.

 

    • Look at how their technology and service structure is set up – is it geared around bringing value to health systems and their patients?

 

  • What opportunities are available for customers to network, learn, and grow?

13.  Results

This may be obvious, but your potential virtual care partners should be willing and able to provide information on the results their customers are seeing. These need to be transparent, understandable, and provable. Check out case studies, webinars, and independent research (if any are available) to see what type of results health systems are seeing with each potential partner. While formal reference checks can be useful, also ask around to your health system peers. Virtual care providers will most likely only give you access to satisfied customers, which is why reading the buzz in the industry is just as important asreference calls.

 

The Telemedicine Switch: Taking Healthcare Delivery from Analog to Digital

When telemedicine was born, making a phone call required an operator from one of the Bells to physically switch lines in her circuit board. To buy another “line” literally meant running a phone line from that switching board to your house through the ground and air.

Analog healthcare delivery

Today, we have a “standard” of telemedicine that is still phone calls. Yes, we have video, but if the data from the industry is valid, it’s still #2 to phone calls by a long shot. (And, if you read my other posts you know that video won’t be the standard in healthcare because…well…it’s not the standard in any other industry).

Previously, I noted that it’s important to distinguish between a new healthcare experience in telemedicine and embracing telemedicine as the future. It’s true that most patients have never engaged in telemedicine (though that’s rapidly changing), so the analog still feels fresh. We perceive telemedicine as being state-of-the-art. But it’s not.

This is especially true for regulators and payers who are just now beginning to embrace alternative care models. They are tied to the mode of care that looks most like what care has always been – so a bit of an “innovation bias” still exists in the industry.

Telemedicine 2.0The trouble is that telemedicine’s DNA is the same as Blockbuster’s or Ma Bell’s: it’s analog. It’s tied to physical objects or locations, like cathode ray tubes, cords, carts, and call-centers. Improvements touted in telemedicine are higher definition screens and faster call-back times. Imagine if Steve Jobs had not released the iPhone but instead released a flip phone that simply had a faster speed-dial with a prettier display – that’s “Telemedicine 2.0.”

 

The Digital Age is Here

Unfortunately, Telemedicine’s analog DNA has reached its evolutionary pinnacle. Call-back times and call centers can only scale so far; their flawed unit economics collapse; their data silos crumble.

As digital technologies become more and more commonplace, the old telemedicine models are beginning to show their age.

Virtual Care: The Next (Digital) Frontier

Just like cell phones and WiFi are the natural digital successors to land lines and dial-up modems, we have virtual care as a digital progenitor of telemedicine. Where telemedicine grew out of hard-wired, analog telecommunications, virtual care’s roots are digital, meaning that it has almost no reliance on physical objects. Instead, virtual care is logical, device agnostic, and data-driven. Virtual care connects systems and data by nature, not exception. APIs and SDKs frolic between platforms.

What this means for healthcare cannot be understated.

The transition to virtual care will usher in wide-spread adoption by patients, it will break down data silos that muck up efficient and effective healthcare delivery, and it will uncork pent up economic innovation in the industry. This is certain – how fast this it all happens depends on, well, the switching costs.

Telemedicine = Analog Virtual Care = Digital
  • Equipment: Hardware-specific
  • Equipment: Device-agnostic
  • Connection: Call center
  • Connection: Cloud-based
  • Quality: Proprietary data
  • Quality: Standards-based
  • Integration: One-off interfaces
  • Integration: API & SDK
  • Efficiency: Limited difference from in-person
  • Efficiency: High for patient and provider

About the Author

Zipnosis CEO and virtual healthcare delivery visionary, Jon Pearce

Jon Pearce is co-founder and CEO of Zipnosis. As a healthcare entrepreneur with experience in med-tech start-ups and as a venture analyst, he is focused on leveraging the power of technology to improve the way health systems engage with and treat their patients.

Still Testing with Telemedicine? Virtual Care Offers Viability

A few months ago, my beloved car, Brynhyld (Bryn for short; I name all my cars), started to show signs of needing more significant repairs: New clutch, new tires, new brakes – about 50% of the value of the car. But I LOVED Bryn. She had been with me through some amazing times in my life. It’s not all the time I’m grateful for my dad’s brainwashing me into liking cars, but this was one. I had already test-driven a dozen cars—just for fun. As a car nerd, I knew exactly what it would take to replace Bryn – pricing, options, and financing terms. So, on a snowy December night, I said goodbye to my beloved Bryn and brought a new car, Petra, into my life.

Most people don’t spend an hour each day reading car blogs, so buying a car can be a stressful experience. The same is true in telemedicine. It nearly impossible to understand what “models” exist, what the right prices are, which vendors are reliable, what ROI to expect, whether patients will use it, etc. So, we do a lot of test-drives with telemedicine.

Telemedicine is Testing

Testing features; testing care delivery models; testing value propositions, patient preference, regulations, and reimbursement. The industry has been using telemedicine to test-drive the next generation of digital care delivery tools for 70 years. This testing has been vital. In healthcare, it takes those 70 years to get to a point where we are ready for a more mature, durable set of tools – ready for substantive change. But now, we’re ready.

Virtual Care is Viable

The most important thing about virtual care is that it’s more than just technology. Virtual care is a movement – a shift in how healthcare organizations and consumers view care delivery.

Virtual care incorporates the data gleaned from all that telemedicine testing to create a dynamic and personalized healthcare delivery experience – not a “one-size-fits-all” telemedicine corral to video or phone.

Virtual care is more amorphous—and durable—by its nature. The excitement virtual care offers isn’t improved patient access (that’s table stakes) – it’s all the ways technology can improve care delivery for patients and health systems. Like linking Smart on FHIR apps for seamless navigation between systems and data sources.

Virtual Care incorporates an endless and ever evolving set of devices that can help providers more accurately and rapidly diagnose and treat their patients – and help patients receive treatment in a way that better fits their lives.

Virtual care is not anchored to a single department or moveable cart – it’s on iPads, in the pockets of nurses, on the screens of your smart TV.

Telemedicine regulations dictate a specific mode (phone or video) that limits patient and provider choice. Virtual care regulation is mode-agnostic and upholds the standard of care as the basis for regulation.

The Time for Testing is Past

It’s been incredible sitting at the tip of the spear in healthcare transformation the past decade. When I started Zipnosis, people told me no one would ever get a diagnosis without going into the clinic. Today, we’re part of a rapidly growing industry.

It’s time to stop testing with telemedicine. Telemedicine is the analog past.  Virtual care is the digital future of healthcare; a future dominated by data and devices that permeate the fabric (literally) of our society.

So, when the brakes on your telemedicine cart start to fail, when the telemedicine engine seizes up at scale, and when the promises of a real ROI lose traction, consider upgrading to virtual care. It’ll be a much better ride.

Telemedicine = Testing

Virtual Care = Viable

  • Hardware: Specialized, expensive, additive
  • Hardware: Agnostic, in hands of consumers, existing
  • Regulations: Mode-specific, special standards of care
  • Regulations: Mode agnostic, standard of care
  • Payment: Right price per visit x utilization
  • Payment: Inclusion in value-based care models, $0.00 transactional costs
  • Utilization: 1 or 2 options – limited clinical use cases and patient/provider preference matching
  • Utilization: Highly personalized options for patients/providers – unlimited clinical use cases over time

Transforming Telemedicine into Virtual Care

There is a long-running discussion on what to call this next generation of healthcare tools. Is it telemedicine? mHealth? Virtual care? Connected care? For the time being, “telemedicine” is in the ascendency, but that appears to be changing.

I have always been challenged by the term “telemedicine,” and I’m going to spend a little time in the coming weeks framing up a way to look at the difference between the term and delivery model that has been prevalent for decades, compared to the care delivery tools and models that will carry us forward.

At the heart, Telemedicine is a term born in the 1960’s, a Brubeck-esque fusion of tele-matic modes of communication (phone and video) and medicine. This history is important to understand so we can better usher in the new generation of tools and nomenclature.

Let’s start with “tele.” It sounds like “8-track” to me. It harkens back to a time when I would look up Domino’s Pizza in the phone book. To when I had to avoid tripping over the phone cord as my mom talked in the hallway. It feels like green vinyl in a Pinto. Like the anti-Mackclemore leisure suit at the Salvation Army. It’s stale and, let’s be honest, out-dated.

I’ll frame this up with a few simple word associations:

Telemedicine = Testing
Virtual Care = Viability

For some, having a healthcare encounter over the phone is novel and new – but it’s not state-of-the-art. This is an important distinction between our first EXPERIENCE with telemedicine and its relevance as a term for future experiences. I would make a significant wager that the majority of our healthcare interactions over the next 10 years will not be the phone calls or 1-1 video visits with a healthcare provider the industry has been testing since the 60s. Instead, we will experience of stream of healthcare that disposes of the analog shackles, unlocks new economic models not built around transactions and delivers durable value.

Telemedicine = Analog
Virtual Care  = Digital

The telemedicine gene pool is analog. The other day, I took a cab from downtown Miami to the airport. The cabbie was genial enough, but when we got to the airport, he frowned when I wanted to use my credit card. He manually typed in my card info onto his terminal, submitted for approval (queue dial-up noises) and waited for the print-out. The printer ran out of paper – so he had to dig through his glove box for a replacement roll, re-thread it and re-print. It was a stark reminder of a time—not long ago—when getting an analog ride to the airport was common place. Telemedicine is like that transaction: labored and inefficient.

Telemedicine = Transactions
Virtual Care = Value

Finally, there’s a transactional feel to the term: I “do” telemedicine; I “practice” telemedicine. It implies a direct connection between a patient and provider – or the healthcare ecosystem. We’re at an important transition in healthcare delivery. The combination of moving care from brick-and-mortar to the digital world and changing payment from fee-for-service into value-based care is forcing healthcare providers and the innovators who support them to develop new ways of providing value.

So there you have it. Telemedicine is dead – well, on life support. Virtual care is the future, and the future looks bright.

Next time, I’ll dig a bit deeper into the testing and viability differences between telemedicine and virtual care. Until then, don’t trip on the telemedicine cords in the hallway.

Walk Before You Run: Driving Success with a Scalable Virtual Healthcare Business Model

When it’s time to pull the trigger on a new technology investment, particularly one with the potential to revolutionize care delivery in your health system, it’s tempting to shoot for the moon and include all the shiny bells and whistles. Like many large-scale improvements where change management is present, that is not always the best strategy. When developing a virtual healthcare business model, health system leaders need to balance the desire to employ the latest growth strategies with a systematic approach. A phased approach facilitates effective change management and the necessary checkpoints to support success.

Virtual Care Scalable Business Model

 

Change Starts from Within

Health systems frequently start their foray into virtual care by offering the service  internally to their employees. This strategy helps build acceptance and understanding of virtual care. It also helps get employees excited and become more knowledgeable about the service. Once your employees experience virtual care as a patient, they feel more comfortable recommending it to patients later on.

In addition to gaining buy-in from key employees, launching internally provides time to monitor the service and make any needed adjustments to the workflow. This means that when you are ready to expand to a broader population, your service is dialed in and working on all cylinders – for both patients and providers.

Grow With Confidence

After the initial phase, it’s time to grow your virtual care service by expanding your patient population. This may include current patients and/or the broader marketplace, depending on your acquisition and retention strategies as well as your regulatory environment.

This phase is the time to begin scaling your service beyond current patient population targets. Use your organizational strategy and virtual care goals to create a comprehensive growth roadmap.

Your plan may include adding employer and health plan contracts, integrating virtual care technology with internal systems, adding access points, or expanding the number and types of conditions that can be treated.

Whatever your scaling and integration plan includes, a methodical, step-by-step approach will serve you best. This supports analyzing the impact of each new addition and gives you the flexibility to make adjustments and optimize staffing to meet organizational goals.

Hit Your Stride

Being part of the virtual care revolution can be exciting – after all, you’re a pioneer on the forefront of innovative healthcare delivery. And, once you have a fully realized, mature virtual care service, innovation is the next step.

Virtual care is a rapidly evolving industry, and the sky’s the limit to its potential impact to your health system. Leading virtual care technology companies are beginning to expand into serving varied needs along the care continuum. For example, support for longitudinal care, such as chronic care management and post-operative care.

The growth and advance of technology is enabling ever-deeper systems integration, helping to eliminate silos and support greater connectivity throughout health systems. And expanding interoperability of your virtual care software is another way to be on the leading edge of healthcare information technology.

Moreover, by collaborating with your virtual care partner to offer the next generation of online care as a pilot site, beta tester or innovation partner, you give your clinicians and patients a voice in the future of care delivery.

Move at Your Own Pace – This Is Not a Sprint

Steady doesn’t necessarily mean slow. Following a phased plan for your virtual healthcare business model enables you to move as fast as makes sense for your health system. Healthcare leaders gain three main benefits from this strategic approach:

Change management: A systematic approach to launching, growing and optimizing your virtual care service can minimize the challenges that come with implementing a new service line. Effective change management relies on this type of phased approach. Being methodical and gathering information and feedback at every step will help set the stage for virtual care success.
Budget management: Launching a new service line means up-front investment – whether you’re going for traditional telemedicine access points like phone and video, or pushing into new frontiers with virtual care. Starting small, with a clear roadmap for scaling means more effective budget management, including the ability to strategically time capital investments.

Risk reduction: Innovation in healthcare is always a bit of a risk, but by starting small and scaling your virtual care service, you are mitigating the risk that comes with investing in something new. Starting small reduces risk by lowering up-front investment. And, using a documented plan to grow your service enables careful monitoring, which limits the likelihood of making an investment that doesn’t pay off.  

Find out how one leading health system successfully employed a measured approach to launching their virtual care service. Get the case study.

Where’s the Return? How to Find Virtual Care ROI for Health Systems

For early adopters of telemedicine, the excitement of new care delivery technology (e.g., video conferences) was enough to build a business case. These days, online care has gained acceptance by both patients and healthcare organizations – it’s no longer just early adopters being lured by something shiny and new. Health systems are being tasked with meeting patient demand for online care and justifying this investment by showing its impact on their organization.

Traditionally, determining the return on telemedicine investment hasn’t always been clear. As a newer way to deliver care, it’s taken some time to develop and validate ROI models and some telemedicine companies continue to struggle with proving ROI to health systems.

Virtual care, which includes traditional telemedicine tools in addition to its suite of transformative digital health solutions offers an alternative. Leading health systems are building out their digital healthcare programs with virtual care and seeing the organizational and financial benefits.

Beyond the Bottom Line

As with other strategic initiatives, virtual care’s return is not just financial. Patient perception in the marketplace and brand positioning are both impacted by launching a virtual care service line. Health systems that offer virtual care and communicate that offering effectively to the marketplace are more likely to be seen as a leader in patient access and technology. With 46% of consumers in a recent survey stating they would choose a health system that offers virtual care over one that doesn’t, this can have a big impact on position in the marketplace and your bottom line.

Virtual care and telemedicine can also play a big role in supporting long-term organizational strategy and building a foundation for the care delivery of tomorrow. The contribution of virtual care to achieving, say, improved patient access or greater operational efficiency goes well beyond any financial returns. Additionally, launching virtual care in support of long-term, strategic objectives can mean that the true financial impact takes time to materialize – think lifetime value.

How to Find Your Virtual Care ROI

Virtual care ROI has many lenses. The best return on investment approach is the one that fits your goals and organizational strategy. Effective goal setting, identifying the right KPIs to measure performance, and developing a reporting process and cadence are vital steps to understanding and measuring the success of your virtual care program.

Metrics like total visits, number of new patients, clinical guideline adherence, clinician work time and patient satisfaction combine to tell the story of a virtual care service. Is it helping bring new patients to the health system? Is it providing high quality medical care? Is it driving operational efficiencies? Do patients like it? These are some of the true measures of virtual care success.

Finding Financial ROI

Of course, there are the numbers…

Calculating the financial return on investment is more than just subtracting costs from revenues. If you want to see the impact virtual care could have on your bottom line, check out our interactive ROI calculators:

ROI through preventing patient leakage

ROI through cost shift in a value-based environment

And, download our latest eBook, Measuring Virtual Care Success: Your Complete Guide to ROI, for more information on quantifying the impact virtual care could have on your health system.

Forecasting the Future of Virtual Care in 2017: 5 Mystical Predictions

So long, 2016, we’ve officially begun a new orbit around the sun. It’s becoming a new year’s tradition for me to don my mystic robes, gaze deep into my son’s Magic 8 Ball and come up with predictions for the future of virtual care in the year ahead. (If the new year has you feeling nostalgic, check out my forecasts for 2015 and 2016.) So, let’s dive in.

1. Demonstrable ROI will be a requirement
Magic 8 Ball response: “Signs point to yes”

To date, the return health systems receive from their virtual care investments has been shadowy and not clearly understood. In fact, when I asked my Magic 8 Ball about the ROI of traditional telemedicine, it said, “Reply hazy try again.”

Some of this ambiguity is due to the relative newness of patient-to-provider virtual care. During the early stages of adoption, throwing things at the wall to see what sticks isn’t an unreasonable strategy. Alternatively, ROI has been a smoke and mirrors game with traditional telemedicine companies decreasing health system investment and inflating adoption hopes. But as virtual care becomes increasingly mainstream, clouding ROI in mystery or promoting unsustainable models will no longer be acceptable (tweet this).

In 2017, Health systems are going to expect a holistic, clear view of the return on their virtual care investment. That will include elements like how virtual care is helping to attract and retain patients and produce positive health outcomes.

2. Health systems will have higher expectations for care quality
Magic 8 Ball response: “Without a doubt”

2016 saw several high-profile telemedicine quality studies published, and traditional telemedicine did not come out looking great. Hospitals and health systems understand the need to increase access by offering online care, but are unwilling to launch services that could negatively impact their quality ratings. As a consequence, quality will become a much larger evaluation factor in areas including:

    • Clinical quality: Health systems will require hard data on clinical quality for care provided via digital channels. If not already in place, telemedicine and virtual care companies will need to find ways to collect and make this data available to their clients.
    • Interoperability: Electronic Medical Record (EMR) integration is no longer a “nice-to-have;” it’s a requirement for maintaining continuity of care and effectively tracking patients’ health data.
  • Data, reporting and analytics: Real-time data will be increasingly important, and health systems will require means of accessing and analyzing the performance of their virtual care service.

3. Driving internal adoption of virtual care will be a priority
Magic 8 Ball response: “Most likely”

Patient demand for virtual care continues to rise. My Magic 8 Ball says, “You may rely on it.” If that’s not enough for you, a recent survey by Rock Health found that 46% of consumers are active digital health adopters, up from 19% the previous year. The upshot is health systems will need their providers fully engaged and supportive of this mode of care delivery.

This year, health systems will focus on change management, provider engagement and making a cultural shift toward embracing virtual care and other digital health technologies (tweet this). Fortunately for health systems, online channels are gaining traction as a mode of care delivery. For example, a study by the Robert Graham Center found that 85% of physicians would consider using telehealth. This acceptance by physicians should make change management and the cultural shift toward embracing virtual access points much easier.

4. Policy support for digital health including virtual care will increase
Magic 8 Ball response: “Outlook good”

2016 saw a great deal of legislative movement in the area of digital health and virtual care. According to the Center for Connected Health Policy, more than 150 pieces of telemedicine-related legislation had been introduced in 44 states as of August. I anticipate a lot more movement on the legislative front for the coming year. It doesn’t hurt that a recent survey by the Federation of State Medical Boards identified “telemedicine” as “the most important medical regulatory topic to state medical boards.”

I also expect that, similar to recent legislation that passed in Wisconsin and Michigan, the policy we’ll see coming in 2017 will be friendly to digital health in general and virtual care in particular. Much of this policy will be driven, or at least influenced, by health systems seeking the best option to bring high quality, convenient care to their patient populations in a way that meets their business objectives.

5. Leading virtual care providers will expand to support more service lines
Magic 8 Ball response: “Signs point to yes”

Virtual care is increasingly venturing out of the acute urgent care space and into supporting a wider range of service lines. This means that virtual care providers will need to identify ways of meeting a wider array of health system needs, likely including forays into longitudinal care such as chronic condition management and/or post-operative care.

Health Systems Move Into the Driver’s Seat

Going through my list, you might have noticed a theme (beyond my surprisingly positive run with the Magic 8 Ball): Health systems are increasingly impacting the direction of this industry. Decision makers at leading health systems are getting more sophisticated about technology; have greater insight into patient and provider satisfaction, engagement, and expectations; and will require real value from their virtual care partner(s). And I, for one, am looking forward to it. “It is decidedly so.”

Want more information on virtual care? Check out our guide to best practices!