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Keeping the Momentum: How Can We Ensure Advances in Digital and Telehealth Services Continue Beyond COVID-19?

November 16, 2022

Turbulent times often give rise to periods of innovation and social change. The advances in healthcare delivery we've seen during COVID-19 are no different.

Before the pandemic, many providers were slow to embrace digital and telehealth services due to a lack of funds, regulatory restrictions, and risk aversion. But COVID-19 swept away many of these barriers, leading to the rapid adoption of digital and telehealth solutions.

Innovations in these fields have helped healthcare professionals treat acute and chronic diseases and address health disparities when face-to-face interactions were limited.

But how do we ensure that these advancements can continue?

Earlier this week, Amy Cummings, our Senior Vice President of Business Development, took part in a telehealth innovation panel at the 2022 Texas Association of Health Plans Annual Conference. The panel discussed how digital and telehealth services can bridge gaps in traditional healthcare delivery and explored mechanisms to ensure their preservation.

Cummings was joined on the panel by moderator Sean Bradley, the Community Engagement and Government Relations Manager at Hazel Health; Susan Gilchrist, the Medical Director at Moving Analytics; and Benjamin Swig, the Director of Healthcare Innovation and Strategy at Acadian Health.

We've captured the key learnings and takeaways from their conversation below.

Digital and telehealth services help healthcare professionals meet patients where and how they want to be reached

COVID-19 has led to an expectation of increased convenience in healthcare delivery.

The panelists agreed that one advantage of digital and telehealth services is their ability to help health plans and health systems cater to each patient's needs.

"If there are more ways for us to connect digitally, I think members will be more engaged. And they are going to then have better outcomes," explained Cummings.

"I would challenge all of the health plans and health systems in the room to think about the programs they have that can meet people how they want to be met and conversed with."

Gilchrist also mentioned that the same applies to older patients who can receive the face-to-face connections they desire through more convenient modalities through digital and telehealth services.

One criticism of this diversion from in-person clinical visits is that a lack of wifi access can be a barrier to care for many patients in rural communities.

Gilchrist, Cummings, and Swig all noted that this doesn't have to be the case. All of their organizations utilize mechanisms that mitigate challenges related to a lack of wifi connectivity. Moving Analytics provides patients in need with a phone and hotspot. Scene's medication engagement program can be used without internet connectivity. And Swig detailed how Acadian Health provides ambulatory services through telehealth and in-person at-home care.

Digital and telehealth services help health plans and health systems thrive under value-based care models by improving outcomes

Value-based care models incentivize health plans and health systems to prioritize the quality of patient care over quantity through outcome-based reimbursement.

The panelists agreed that digital and telehealth services prove their value under value-based care models by improving outcomes — what Cummings called the "so what."

"The 'so what' of all of these telehealth and digital health services is to engage members and help them to have better outcomes so that they have better satisfaction," she explained.

"There's a huge amount of value when we spend time, and we commit the quality of the care in the home," added Swig.

Gilchrist added to this sentiment by mentioning that digital and telehealth services can prove this value through data. "What we need to do or consider is to provide the value and the hard outcomes," she said.

"To then go back to the clinical payers, both government and commercial, and say, here's the data. Here's what we're doing to make a difference in your population. You need to continue to reimburse this. "

Digital and telehealth services supplement and extend care beyond clinical settings

Another advantage of digital and telehealth services is their ability to make up for physician and clinical staff shortages.

"Providers are feeling overwhelmed. Through the pandemic, losing a lot of staff and also financially not being able to afford to provide as many staff as they would like," Cummings explained.  

"So if we're going to have one more digital offering for the PCP or any other type of provider, it's going to have to save them time, it's going to have to save them money. It's going to have to provide better outcomes for their patient population," Gilchrist added.

Digital and telehealth services like Scene's medication engagement program can be the answer to building healthcare capacity by augmenting provider care teams and extending care outside the home.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the panelists agreed that digital and telehealth services can provide effective, safe, timely, patient-focused care while improving outcomes and easing the burden on providers. And by showing improved outcomes and patient engagement through data, these services can prove their value and continue being sought by providers, payers, and health systems.

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