By Peter Anderson, MBA, AristaMD advisor | Featured in HIT Consultant
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of virtual consultations to help keep patients out of waiting rooms and emergency departments, in hopes to reduce exposure and spread of the virus. Even so, it should not be news to healthcare stakeholders that patients experienced delayed healthcare in 2020. An estimated 1 in 3 Americans delayed care during this time, with 53 percent of respondents in a recent large-scale survey stating that they are worried about catching COVID-19 if they visit medical facilities.
Several factors motivated patients to defer even necessary care:
- State, county, or municipal stay-at-home orders.
- Increasing financial concerns due to the economic downturn of 2020.
- Fear of exposure to COVID19 within medical settings.
- Temporary closures of medical offices to control COVID-19 spread.
- Inability to access open facilities because of the volume of COVID-19 cases.
- Cancelation of elective and non-urgent procedures.
Many patients and providers quickly pivoted to telehealth in order to connect during lockdowns and office closures. Both patients and providers recognize the value of telehealth resources and technology, and we have seen providers rapidly implement multiple to provide care under this novel, long-lasting pandemic.
Patients with chronic and co-morbid conditions were specifically impacted by the crisis. These patients often need a multi-specialty care team to manage care effectively and proactively. Over the past several months, it has become clear that primary care providers and specialists can work together through telehealth resources like electronic consultation, or eConsults, to expand clinical capabilities and accelerate clinical decision-making. This allows lower-acuity care settings to serve patients’ complex needs while avoiding unnecessary exposure to the virus and backlogged appointment queues.
6 ways virtual consultations mitigate the impact of the “second surge” for healthcare organizations:
1. Effective triage is becoming increasingly essential. For healthcare organizations, eConsults are a tool to sub-divide referral queues and channel members into one of the following four categories:
- Patients that can be treated, or have additional workups or diagnostics to be completed within primary care.
- Patients that specialists should see remotely via telemedicine.
- Patients that need face-to-face specialty appointments immediately.
- Patients that need face-to-face specialty appointments, but less urgently.
Effective triage is becoming increasingly essential to properly manage care, in a timely manner and within the most appropriate setting.
2. Access to specialists’ insights “on-demand” allows PCPs to provide both acute and chronic disease patients with safe and timely access to specialty care, without the need for additional face-to-face appointments, especially since many primary care practices have moved a majority of visits to telemedicine encounters.
3. eConsults help to retain continuity of care for essential specialty care. Many patients have ongoing specialty care needs which require regular care. It is important these patients continue care plans and provider virtual consultations to improve wellbeing and outcomes.
4. By reducing delays in care, lower-acuity patients do not become higher-acuity patients.
5. Access to virtual consultations, “on-demand” specialist insights increase capacity at specialist offices when they do re-open, to avoid ongoing the “patient logjam” predicted by experts across the industry.
6. Using eConsult technology, medication adjustments can be recommended remotely by a specialist, and the patient’s PCP can then carry out that adjustment, sometimes also on a remote basis. Adjusting medications and ensure compliance is especially important for at-risk patient populations such as older adults, people with chronic conditions, and immunocompromised patients.
Telehealth and virtual consultations are here to stay. Specialist eConsults play an integral role in delivering timely care to patients in need. eConsults are a valuable COVID-19 telehealth resource for your organization by providing PCPs access to specialists “on-demand” so patients receive care, even when a face-to-face visit is not possible. Telehealth has become an important component of healthcare and eConsults now deliver timely access to care for all. Besides the use of eConsults for complex issues, these tools enable AI for front door triage, video for low acuity PCP visits, and patient messaging for post-visit follow-up. Hand in hand with eConsults, other telehealth tools allow patients access to more equitable and timely care.
About Peter Anderson
Peter Anderson is a Managing Partner at HealthEco and formerly the founder and developer of the Carolinas Physicians Network, Inc., a company that he grew from 80 to 600 providers over the 12 years. He went on to be Chief Strategy Officer at Sutter Health where he led the creation of the innovation program and recruited its first CIIO. Peter has run specialty hospitals and service lines, managed all the support services including supply chain and facilities design and construction for a $10B healthcare system, and has developed broad knowledge and experience in both healthcare operations and strategy. Peter holds a BS in Economics from BYU and an MBA from Harvard Business School.