The pandemic has created significant disruptions to all aspects of society, especially related to how we deliver and access healthcare. The impact has been painful and challenging, but the pandemic also drove some positive changes including unprecedented collaboration across stakeholders within the healthcare industry. It also provided the push consumers and the industry needed to finally adopt virtual care, a cost efficient and convenient way to access and utilize healthcare services.

Telehealth Increased to 14 Percent of All Visits

The industry saw a massive shift toward virtual care at the beginning of the pandemic. Research by The Commonwealth Fund showed that telehealth visits, as a percentage of all healthcare encounters, rose from 1 percent in mid-March 2020 to 14 percent of all encounters by April. As the pandemic continues, we have seen telehealth usage level off as healthcare providers, payers and patients begin to determine the right balance between accessing virtual care and attending visits in-person. It is a delicate balance that will require a hybrid approach.

Telehealth and In-Person Visits

The healthcare industry’s challenge will be to employ this hybrid approach effectively, to maintain adoption of telehealth and help bring down costs, while substantially increasing access and improving outcomes overall. Understanding how consumers prefer to engage with the healthcare system requires the expansion of digital access.

Connecting with primary care providers and specialists, including mental and behavioral health, to treat chronic health conditions and ensure appropriate medication management is a smart use of telehealth and provides consumers with the convenience and privacy they demand. However, nothing beats face-to-face interaction, and in-person visits will continue to be essential in maintaining the physician/patient relationship. Especially when physically examining the patient helps the clinician to better understand and diagnose an issue.

Physician and Patient Relationships Also Need Digital Communication

Beyond using technology to increase health access and treatment, it is also imperative for the industry to better communicate and engage digitally with consumers. This can be achieved by tapping into digital trends and behaviors. Tech-savvy consumers can be found in all generations. Let’s compare the millennial who wants to utilize telehealth as their “digital front door” to the Boomer who is using Google on their desktop computer to search and select the most affordable Medicare advantage plan. Both generations have unique needs, and their technology usage must be considered as the industry evolves and hopefully, transforms.

38% of Patients Communicate Via Online

With consumers becoming more and more in control of the dollars being spent in this sector, it is essential for providers and payers to meet consumers where they are. A January 2021 G&S Consumer Survey found that 38% of patients now communicate with their providers through an online portal compared to 29% before the pandemic. Additionally, more than 35% of consumers said they order their prescriptions through an online app compared to just 12% before the pandemic.

Learning from the Digital Transformation of Other Industries

With so many different digital apps and services available, how does the industry ensure these tools are easy to find, can talk to each other and exchange data to help payers and providers make better care decisions for their patients? This technology connection already occurs every day in the financial services industry. A consumer’s financial history and actions can be viewed from any device at any time, and they can access funds and take out cash from anywhere. Financial institutions, utilities, merchants and credit card companies can share information and allow consumers to seamlessly pay their bills through each others’ services. Imagine if hospitals, payers, urgent care centers and others were able to provide a similar customer experience! Not only does it save time, paper and effort, it will ultimately streamline healthcare operations, increase collaboration, reduce margin for error and improve care.

Creating A Digital Transformation Mindset, Not Just Investments

While the pandemic created the environment for rapid telehealth adoption and digitization of current services, the healthcare industry is still ripe for a massive, true digital transformation. G&S Communications Vice President of Digital Marketing, Nicholas Love, notes that “there is a core difference between digitizing current offerings compared to adopting a true digital transformation mindset.” This approach will be critical to the healthcare industry’s success. A key component of this transformation is the realization of the extraordinary benefits of data interoperability across stakeholders. Recent regulations, specifically The Cures Act, help to put patients in control of their own healthcare information. The new standards require healthcare organizations to embrace interoperability and share healthcare information without blocking access to data.

The Future of Healthcare Delivery

The initiation of interoperability will be a breakthrough for the healthcare industry. The ability to log into one system and view a patient’s healthcare record all in one place will help patients make better decisions, connect the dots between providers, streamline tests and improve outcomes. Whether a patient visits their physician in-person or through telehealth, their complete health history, current medication, and surgery information would be at the clinician’s fingertips. This is the future of healthcare delivery.

To achieve this, we must utilize the telehealth momentum created by the pandemic to inspire a comprehensive digital transformation. Now is the time for meaningful industry collaboration, to move away from our siloed approach and work together to realize the benefits of digital interoperability – one that will improve patient quality, reduce costs, increase access, and help the industry to truly address healthcare disparities. This is our goal. This is our mission. The time is now!

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