No one’s going to make a movie anytime soon about the positives that have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. From an overwhelmed healthcare system to shortages of personal protective equipment, to the burnout of frontline clinical workers, the challenges have at times, seemed insurmountable. But as we round the corner and look ahead to a certain sense of return to normalcy, one real silver lining has emerged; Telemedicine.
It’s nothing new of course. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) traces the roots of Telemedicine back to an 1879 article in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet discussing “(the use of) the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits.” NCBI documents hospital-based Telemedicine sixty years ago using closed-circuit television for psychiatric consultations. But those were voluntary uses. In 2020 and 2021, Telehealth was thrust upon us. We had no choice. But the surveys say there is overwhelming support.
Nectar Strategic Consulting President Barbara Casey concurs with the survey results. “I totally get the convenience and the benefit of not being exposed to sick patients. It is a lot easier to make an appointment. I think we can definitely improve the streamlining of follow-up in communication with clinicians after the visit. That’s something you have to build into the workflow, which is so important.”
Casey says we’ve gotten to a point where the technology is no longer an obstacle to Telehealth acceptance. “It’s more of how the experience is embedded inside the workflow for the clinicians — the work processes and behaviors that everyone’s going to agree to in terms of how they treat, follow up, and communicate with patients. I definitely think the pandemic has helped people to experience Telehealth and therefore, it’s not as much of a cultural barrier as it used to be. I think people actually saw some things they really did prefer as opposed to getting in the car and having to go to a brick-and-mortar facility.”
As for clinicians, a survey of 1600 doctors conducted by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition identifies workflow as an area for improvement as well.
Nectar Director of Client Services Teresa DeLappe identifies the challenges. “If you look at the survey of doctors, two things that jumped out at me were 58% said lack of EHR integration was a barrier to adoption and only 11% said they’re using remote patient monitoring platforms. Those are barriers that we can’t break down just through trial and error. Those are cultural monuments that will take a whole lot more work to overcome. And I think there’s a groundswell of support to do that. I’ve seen a lot of physicians and physician leaders commenting that now is the time to integrate Telehealth into the EHR. You really have to map and integrate the whole experience of Telehealth, virtual care, and Telemedicine into the workflow as opposed to having it be something separate that sits on the side.”
Beyond workflow, Casey and DeLappe also say we must focus on the human factor and the toll the pandemic has taken on clinicians. Some ambulatory clinics, they say, may have found an answer by having a remote-based, Telehealth-only staff. “They can work remotely because all of their patients are being seen via Telehealth. So, from the perspective of work-life balance, burnout, and the human factor, we’re seeing some great feedback in that sense. I think in the ambulatory, primary care world, that’s where we’re going to see the biggest changes,” notes DeLappe.
As a recent article in Forbes magazine noted, “sometimes necessity is the mother of invention or in this case, the mother of adoption.” A COVID-19 silver linings playbook.