Before the pandemic altered nearly every facet of business, new care delivery options were beginning to appear in healthcare. However, COVID-19 was the catalyst that accelerated those trends, forcing healthcare providers to begin a long-awaited shift and focus on patient experience.
The global push to socially distance, stay at home, and flatten the curve meant that businesses of all kinds had to pivot to new ways of connecting with their customers.
The pandemic dramatically accelerated investments in new methods of care delivery including phone, video, remote patient monitoring, and at-home care. While the adjustment was not always easy, for many patients it made the difference between getting help and delaying care indefinitely.
Now that approximately half of Americans have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and in-person visits are picking up again, it would be fair to assume that some of the new channels healthcare providers offered over the past 18 months would see their utilization rates decline. However, our experts disagree, and our Omnichannel Healthcare Experience Report found that healthcare consumers, especially younger demographics now want and expect their healthcare teams via those new channels.
It is clear from our findings that newer methods of care delivery will continue to have a place in modern healthcare long after the pandemic. Our respondents’ most commonly used healthcare setting was still their provider’s office, but nearly half of the patients we surveyed had utilized telehealth in the past 18 months, and half of Millennials consider telehealth to be one of their top 3 methods of care. As Millennials continue to build families and become healthcare decision makers, we believe that this preference for diverse care delivery will only continue to expand.
This proliferation of new care methods is the natural progression of the digitization of business, not a passing pandemic phenomenon. Although many patients will return to brick-and-mortar facilities post-covid, telehealth will be a foundational pillar of the healthcare industry moving forward.
In-Office Care Still Reigns
Across generations and other demographics, we found that patients’ most preferred location for care delivery was their provider’s office. The human element is essential to patients feeling heard and understood, and in-person care is the easiest way to deliver that.
Especially for older generations like Baby Boomers and Gen X, the desire for face-to-face care is enduring. Even at the height of lockdowns, we found that the preference for in-office settings held strong. This likely reflects their desire to seek care from clinicians they know and trust as they expressed concerns about not knowing who would be on the other side of a virtual health call.
Telehealth Is Here to Stay
Still, telehealth use remains popular. 38% of our respondents listed telehealth in their most frequented settings for delivery of care, second only to in-office care and preferred over hospitals and urgent care clinics.
Millennials and Gen Z have increasing preferences for non-traditional care settings like retail clinics, telehealth, and at-home care. Providing various options for setting of care will be especially important when serving younger generations.
The pandemic accelerated the trend toward telehealth, shifting it from a simple convenience to, in most cases, a necessity.
Covid forced many hospitals to narrow their focus on managing and controlling the virus. Non-essential surgeries were cancelled, wards were sectioned off to contain infected patients, and visitors were not allowed. In a bid to continue to provide primary care and other non-Covid support to patients, many healthcare providers began to offer telehealth as a preferred option.
Fast forward 18 months after the spring of 2020, in-person care is available to patients again, and the percentage of care appointments that are taking place via telehealth has stayed around 30%. Compare this to the pre-Covid numbers, when only 6-7% of appointments were done by telehealth, and it’s easy to see how dramatic this shift is.
As virtual care technology has continued to improve over the past 18 months, becoming more reliable and secure, and solving for more complex use cases itis reasonable that patients who consider convenience as an important factor in healthcare will continue to choose telehealth as a top preference for care delivery.
This does not mean telehealth should be healthcare providers’ only focus. Rather it means that the new landscape of healthcare demands a balanced offering of delivery models to reach patients with differing needs and circumstances. Finding that balance will help connect more effectively with more patients.
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The Expansion of Delivery Models
In addition to in-office care, patients are increasingly interested in a wide range of care delivery models, and they expect to have options when making an appointment with their provider. Those options might include:
Virtual visits are blended models, more of an enhancement of in-person care rather than a replacement of it. Whether it is a video or a phone call, virtual visits connect patients quickly and conveniently and provide a great support for more traditional means of care.
Some excellent uses of virtual visits include urgent care triage (to help patients decide whether they should go into a clinic or hospital), photo diagnosis, regular check-ups or prescription refill appointments with primary care physicians, and treatment check-ins for specialty care.
To provide patients with greater convenience, higher quality of life, and lower overall costs, more care is moving to the home. It started with hospice care for those with terminal illnesses, but at-home care has become increasingly popular for other conditions as well.
Patients with chronic conditions can benefit from at-home help with their management plan, those with mobility issues might prefer to have their physical therapists visit them at home, and even at-home diagnostic testing is increasing in scope.
Remote patient monitoring
Wearable or otherwise connected devices are another form of convenient, immediate care that can be delivered remotely. Providers can monitor a variety of patient statistics, including exercise habits, sleep patterns, and blood pressure. In addition, patients with cardiac issues or sleep apnea can greatly benefit from these kinds of devices and the round the clock monitoring they enable. Remote patient monitoring can not only strengthen the value of virtual visits by providing additional insights to the provider, but they can also send alerts and monitor patients at-home.
The proliferation of new healthcare delivery models is only going to increase as we move into the post-Covid era. To meet patients where they are, and to deliver an experience that suits their needs, healthcare providers need to focus on offering a variety of care options, including virtual visit options like telehealth.
The good news is that the more care delivery models you embrace, the more patients you are likely to reach, and many of these options increase accessibility and ease of use for both patients and providers. Improving your customer experience not only help your customers; it also has a direct impact on your organization’s overall success in a time of rapid digitization.
If you are looking for guidance in serving your patients at the level they have come to expect, Avtex is here to help you design and implement omnichannel care solutions that will improve your customer experience and generate additional lines of revenue.