Most provider organizations boosting telehealth investments, survey finds

More than half (56%) of hospital and health system leaders say they are planning to increase their investment in telemedicine during the next two years, according to a new survey from telehealth vendor Amwell and HIMSS Analytics.

This shows that the huge surge in and mainstreaming of telehealth during the ongoing pandemic has caused the C-suite and other healthcare leaders to embrace the technology that has for so long existed on the periphery of medicine.

To dig into the results of this new survey, Healthcare IT News interviewed Kelly Lewis, vice president of commercial strategy and enablement at Amwell. Here she talks about growth and investment in virtual care, priorities and objectives with technology, platform consolidation and more.

Q. What does your survey show in the area of expected growth and investment in telehealth?

A. It’s no secret – the COVID-19 pandemic caused telehealth adoption to skyrocket. However, because much of this adoption was driven out of an abundance of necessity, there was little time for organizations to think strategically about their technology investments.

With urgency at a high, payers, provider organizations and clinicians all turned to the quickest options available so patients could continue to get care. The result, however, was what we are calling platform “sprawl” – the use of a number of disparate solutions that are leading to a confusing and frustrating care delivery system and experience.

Now, as telehealth enters a new phase, healthcare leaders are reconsidering the role that it will and should play in care delivery and their organizational strategy over the long term. To better understand how key stakeholders – payers, provider organizations and clinicians – are thinking about digital care delivery moving forward, Amwell teamed with HIMSS Analytics.

The clear message is that telehealth is here to stay and will continue to expand. Over half of clinicians say the pandemic has positively impacted their long-term desire to use telehealth going forward, and 56% of hospital and health system leaders say they are planning to increase their investment in virtual care over the next two years, especially in the areas of staff training and support, specialty care, and hospital-at-home programs.

The majority of payers without virtual care offerings also reported planning to add them in the next 24 months.

Q. What are survey respondent’s priorities and objectives regarding telehealth?

A. While there is no clear shared vision among respondents for what the ideal or future state looks like, stakeholders broadly agree on the core elements that need to be in place: a streamlined experience for patients and providers, interoperability (of platforms as well as data), and a nimble and sustainable infrastructure that can support future growth.

In terms of the specific priorities driving these elements for each group, the most cited benefit to using virtual care among clinicians is its ability to increase access for patients, followed by increased efficiency and an improved patient experience.

The vast majority of hospital and health system leaders say they measure the effectiveness of their technology by patient satisfaction scores and provider satisfaction/adoption, making these key priorities for these stakeholders driving their digital care investments. 

Meanwhile, health plans reported visit volumes, member satisfaction scores, improved outcomes and improved access to care as their top priorities for virtual care.

Q. According to your survey, what are telehealth’s technology needs and investment drivers?

A. Now that the dust has begun to settle around the mad dash to start using telehealth during the pandemic, healthcare decision-makers are taking stock of the systems and solutions they rushed to put in place during the first wave of COVID-19. As they plan out their future digital care investments, different stakeholders report different priorities.

For clinicians, patient preference/experience, quality video connections and the ability to integrate with existing workflows, systems, etc., are the most often cited needs for them to be able to use telehealth effectively. Clinicians also emphasize the importance of integrating telehealth in other systems.

Meanwhile, hospital and health system leaders cite cost reduction, ease of use and compatibility as their top purchasing drivers. More than 80% of the respondents said the ability to integrate with existing workflows, fast video connections and reducing admin burden were “very” or “extremely” important factors in their telehealth technology investments.

Q. What do survey respondents see in the area of platform consolidation?

A. Several platforms/systems for digital care – as well as for patient engagement, remote patient monitoring, etc. – are now in place, but they often live in silos and have not been part of a systematic, centralized plan. Hospital and health system leaders in particular are now seeing that as their digital care platforms scale and sprawl, they are straining the infrastructure of their organizations and creating challenges for senior executives and frontline clinicians alike.

This was supported by our survey data, with the vast majority of hospitals and health systems surveyed reporting they want to move toward a single integrated platform. Among the-decision makers and influencers currently using two or more platforms, 77% said moving toward a single, secure telehealth platform that is fully integrated with other systems (such as the EHR and compliance systems) is “very” or “extremely” important for their organization.

Clinicians agree that moving toward a fully integrated telehealth platform would be beneficial. More than 80% believe investing in a fully integrated virtual or hybrid care system would have a positive impact on clinical outcomes and patient experiences.

Roughly 75% of all payers said that access to virtual care member data and insights through a single digital platform would streamline the member experience (a top challenge today), improve patient outcomes and support the development of innovative models of care coordination and delivery.

As we move into the next phase of care delivery, it has become clear that, in order to realize the potential of digital care delivery in the wake of the COVID-19 experience, healthcare organizations need to develop a cohesive, holistic strategy and plan their investments and next steps accordingly.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bsiwicki@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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