Last week, Nerdery hosted a panel of experts in the healthcare industry for a discussion on the future of virtual care and what that means for the patient experience. Panelists Amy Walters of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Shaye Mandle of The Medical Alley Association, Vijay Murugappan of First Quadrant Advisory, and Taqee Khaled of Nerdery worked through the challenges that were brought on by the sudden need for these platforms due to the pandemic, and ideated solutions to shore up virtual care technology to meet modern healthcare needs and patients’ demands in the future.
Read on for highlights from our conversation, or view the full recording here.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic spur the advancement of your telehealth ecosystem in order to meet the new demand of your customers?
Amy: We have five hospitals across the U.S. and primarily focus on cancer care, so we had to be very thoughtful about what we were going to do from a telehealth perspective. Unfortunately, you cannot deliver surgery, radiation or chemotherapy through telehealth. We had to think through what we could do for patients while being very conscious that our patients’ immune systems are compromised and we were in a pandemic. It wasn’t that we could take away from the on-site visit, but how could we supplement their care overall and make it a better experience.
Where did telehealth stand prior to the pandemic, and then how did that shift once COVID-19 hit?
Vijay: Telehealth has been around for awhile yet has struggled to gain scale. Prior to the pandemic, even progressive employers, payers, providers, etc. were unable to get more than 1% or 2% utilization of those services by patients and members. The pandemic created a watershed event for people to think differently about how to deliver virtual care services. From payers waiving co-pays for visits — especially for behavioral health — to providers, large and small, ramping up very quickly and pivoting their entire back-office workflow. Regulators took swift actions and digital start-ups rapidly scaled their capabilities.
Shaye: We are in a place now of tremendous opportunity. We have seen that people can make the shift to virtual care. One of the big promises of telehealth is to keep and improve outcomes but also lower costs. We’ve opened up access, though there are still issues with prescribed co-pays and payment parity. We see a lot of companies in a lot of sectors looking at cost-savings opportunities. We realize we’ll have a lot more patients wanting virtual experiences and we need to consider what that should look like. How can we utilize that adoption to improve the customer experience? Patients will have more choices, so what does that overall experience look like paired with the in-clinic experience.
Amy: Face-to-face interaction with physicians is amazing. But we are actually seeing that in those virtual visits, you might have more general engagement. You may have thought the virtual visit would be a colder experience, but it’s actually a warm experience. It’s allowed us to look at the care continuum to see where we can interject video to make that a warmer experience.
Taqee: Competition and quality are now going to be determined by the experience of virtual care products. The virtual care platform really seems viable for the first time.
Vijay: Virtual has been empowering for the patient. As a patient, it’s now easy for you to engage with your provider in a way you weren’t able to do before.
How have shifting regulations helped us maintain that close relationship even in a telehealth platform?
Shaye: Regulations have been loosened across the spectrum of healthcare. We’re looking at what regulations have changed that we need to make permanent. But also how, going forward, that we are creating the flexibility to allow for the power of value-based agreements to be present. How do we utilize digital health technologies to have an integrated care path for people? Issues we are looking at are data sharing and data privacy to open up the path for integrated healthcare.
What tools or technologies should providers and payers be paying attention to ensure efficiency and ease of access for patients?
Vijay: Technology is not the issue. There is great technology out there and that is being developed. The challenge with healthcare is that it is a highly fragmented system. It’s not due to a lack of desire or awareness. No entity has figured out to create that macro experience and monetize it. If you can make the data available to participants, then it might be possible. Technology used to be an enabler of business and now it’s become the driver.
Shaye: There are so many technologies. There is a new light shining on the decision makers about future investments around technology (i.e., healthcare CIO’s). The pandemic has forced them to think differently from the traditional provider model. The technology is there, but we have to keep coming back to those integration opportunities. We are seeing more of an attitude of innovation.
Taqee: A silver lining of the pandemic has been to take a microscopic look at the way these processes, technologies, and experiences are strung together. Health organizations need to bring together your most cross-functional, nimble minds think through the patient experience. Experience is the true product in digital. By healthcare jumping into virtual, we are now in the mind of the consumer. We all expect great care from our medical providers, but now we’ll also be looking at the experience.
Amy: Because we’ve used this technology in other facets of our lives, we’re finally giving power back to the patient in their health journey. There is a lot of opportunity opening up for the patient now. We are empowering them by using virtual. We are allowing patients to take control of their experience.
Vijay: When you do have an interaction with a doctor or nurse, it’s at a most vulnerable point in your life. You’re going in with little information, at a time that is very vulnerable for you and at a time that might be financially significant, too. So health organizations need to simplify so patients can get the care on their terms. We have to design for the patient’s simplicity, not for our complexity.
Taqee: When Nerdery works with healthcare clients, we map out how systems talk to each other and then superimpose on top of that how do you want it to feel? How does it feel to travel through our system? It’s a very difficult exercise — there is so much complexity there. If we can even shield patients and consumers from sections that we understand can be distressing for them, and solve that for them, then that allows them to focus on interacting with their care provider and healing.
To get started shoring up your virtual care platform and customer experience today, connect with a Nerdery expert. If you enjoyed reading or watching this dialog, stay tuned for announcements around future Nerd Therapy panels.