How Telehealth Allows for Diverse Care Options

According to the American Medical Association, there’s little doubt that virtual care will remain in some form even after crisis conditions ease. Although approximately 50 percent of healthcare providers deployed virtual health services for the first time during this pandemic, the likely future of these frameworks is optimization, not obsolescence.

That projection stems in part from the opportunity presented by crisis-driven care challenges.

“What we found, in being forced to pivot, was that we can better identify which type of visit — in person, telephone or virtual — is best for each patient,” says Steph Willding, CEO of Chicago’s CommunityHealth, the nation’s largest free, volunteer-based healthcare organization. “While you don’t usually think about a free health center being a hub for innovation, 40 percent of our visits are now by video or phone.”

At Tucson Medical Center, virtual healthcare technology innovation started with a new approach to patient visits, says Susan Snedaker, information security officer and interim CIO for TMC HealthCare.

“In our hospital, we had virtual visits within the walls of the building to reduce the need for PPE use,” she says. “With limited supplies and time needed for doctors to put on required PPE — sometimes up to 20 minutes — we found a lot of value in real-time text, video and chat solutions.”

Telemedicine Places Care Where It’s Most Needed

In traditional healthcare settings, space and place are critical. Care facilities need enough space for doctors, patients, administrative staff and equipment, and all the necessary parties must be in the same place at the same time.

From Willding’s perspective, the pandemic offered healthcare enterprises the chance to “rethink space and place for patient-centered care.” CommunityHealth’s approach is to create a hybrid model by establishing telehealth hubs — or “microsites” — throughout Chicago.

“These hubs are colocated in existing community organizations, making them incredibly sustainable,” says Willding. “Patients can come to a site in their own community and receive an assisted medical visit. Medical assistants are onsite to help with vital statistics and basic care, and to set up patients in rooms for virtual visits with an expert.”

CommunityHealth plans to open its first microsite in April, with the goal of opening a new one each quarter.

In practice, solutions like this highlight the need for healthcare agencies to understand where they can make best use of telemedicine’s advantages. For CommunityHealth, creating a hybrid in-person/telemedicine model made the most sense for their client base.

READ MORE: Learn how telehealth supports mental health care in remote and underserved areas.

Remote Care Technology Empowers Patients with Greater Choice

Organizations must also account for the changing nature of the healthcare market at large.

“Thanks to the consumerization of healthcare technologies, the balance of power has shifted,” says Snedaker. “Providers still have a schedule, but they’re effectively on-demand for patients. As a result, both the provider and the patient benefit, and this drives critical mass for adoption.”

In effect, this disconnect between care and location — much like the emerging shift in space and place — creates an opportunity for asynchronous assistance. It’s no longer necessary that patients and providers be in same place at the same time.

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