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A Bright Future: How Digital Tools Are Meeting Patients Where They Live

Mike Davis, KLAS Arch Collaborative Ambassador

The US healthcare system is one of the highest-cost environments in the world. But the high price does not translate to better outcomes or care quality. In 2019, the US ranked 30th out of 89 countries measured by factors that contribute to overall health. Spending was $3.6 trillion or $11,172 per person in 2018, according to CMS. In 2018, healthcare represented 17.7 percent of the US GDP.

These issues were magnified by Covid-19 as the ability to deliver effective care and pandemic surveillance monitoring drove organizations to quickly adapt telehealth and other digital technologies to deliver primary care and remotely monitor patients.

In many cases, the immature or first-version telehealth solutions were lacking needed functionality, and yet, organizations implemented solutions that met their needs. Primary care physicians needed to create revenue streams to support their clinics. It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and physicians quickly learned to use telehealth and other digital technologies to survive. Telehealth adoption was not a high-growth technology market before the virus but has emerged as one since March of 2020. Telehealth growth in 2020 is expected to rise 65 percent; much of this relates to CMS adopting higher levels of reimbursement for telehealth.

Telehealth, Remote Monitoring, and Digital Engagement

Once patients experienced telehealth services, they quickly realized how easily they could receive care in the convenience of their homes. They no longer had to drive to a clinic or be exposed to other sick patients in the clinic waiting rooms. The emergence of remote monitoring devices also improved the ability of clinicians to monitor the health status of high-risk patients. Remote patient monitoring provided by smart watches and solutions from companies such as Rimidi is evolving to close the gap by matching the efficacy of clinic visits. Patient engagement services supported by application devices for scheduling appointments, accessing care guidance instructions, reviewing a personal health record, conducting medication refills, and directly communicating with care providers via email or text messaging are functional examples that need to be integrated into all patient portals.

Retail healthcare services are also quickly emerging that will support lower-level primary care services with increased convenience and much lower service costs. Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS are quickly driving more convenient and affordable healthcare services for consumers. These companies will be using digital technologies to deliver their new primary care services.

Another company to watch is Ro, which received $200 million in additional funding to continue to grow its remote and homecare services. Healthcare providers will focus more on digital service capabilities to meet consumer demand, and the number of healthcare organization clinics will decline.

Patient-Focused Healthcare Rules

Digital technologies supporting primary care have established a new model for delivering services that truly meet patients’ needs. These technologies are driving new methods for delivering and supporting patient care. They’re also driving new primary care delivery services from emerging vendors and from retail healthcare giants. Patient-focused care is no longer just a platitude espoused by healthcare organizations; it is now the platform that will ensure long term viability for providers who can successfully implement these emerging primary care models. Digital technologies that extend telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and patient engagement services will be a required component moving forward. Perhaps unnecessary clinics can be sold to help fund digital technology implementations.

Emerging Companies and Retail Health

The vendors that use digital technology platforms to provide primary care services are represented by the following companies:

  • Ro
  • Lemonaid Health
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart
  • CVS

Healthcare organizations that cannot provide competitive digital services with the above companies are likely to lose most of their primary care service markets.

Success Factors

  • Evaluate telehealth solutions relative to intuitive design for both physicians and patients for easy access and operations.
  • Investigate the ability of the telehealth solution to integrate remote patient monitoring devices into the environment to better support the telehealth encounter.
  • Expand patient engagement services to enhance the ability to schedule and prepare for telehealth services with required treatment guidelines and instructions.

Summary

Covid-19 has been both a disaster and blessing to US healthcare. The blessing emerged in the form of primary care physicians adopting telehealth and other digital health services to provide basic and preventive care services to patients who were restricted in their ability to travel. Patients receiving remote care services are unlikely to revert to the old care paradigm of traveling to a clinic to receive most primary care. The continuing advancement of technologies such as smart watches, speech recognition, and mobile applications that can be used to help consumers identify potential health issues and provide corresponding treatment guidance and physician connections will add an addition layer of digital health capabilities. Healthcare organizations need to continue to focus on extending their digital healthcare services to remain competitive in the primary care markets. Time to put on your sunglasses; the patient-focused future looks bright.

[This piece was written by Mike Davis, Arch Collaborative Lead Analyst at KLAS. For more information about KLAS, click here.]

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