Demand for “on-demand” telehealth services will grow, technology will normalize access to health experts via telemedicine, virtual chronic care management is growing and personalization will influence telehealth engagement.
These are the beliefs of Frank McGillin, CEO of The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic. The Clinic is a transformative joint venture between Cleveland Clinic and telehealth vendor Amwell that brings innovative digital health solutions to a new level with ease of use, advanced technologies and powerful outcomes.
Healthcare IT News interviewed McGillin to get him to explain his beliefs on the state of virtual care and where it is headed.
Q: Do you believe demand for “on-demand” virtual care will grow? If so, why?
A: The horse is out of the barn for virtual care. COVID-19 eliminated many of the barriers to virtual care that existed before the pandemic, from provider reluctance to lack of infrastructure to hesitance from consumers.
Now, people are finding that they like the convenience of virtual care – especially when they can get it on demand. One physician-consumer survey found more than half of consumers plan to use telehealth more after the pandemic than they did beforehand, while 92% of physicians expect to continue providing virtual care.
At The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic, demand for virtual second opinions for complex diagnoses has doubled in the past year. Across the industry we’re also seeing increased interest in virtual appointments in cardiology and oncology, two specialties where innovation is occurring at a rapid pace.
The key to delivering on-demand virtual care will be connecting members with high-demand specialists – ideally, from anywhere in the world.
Q: Is it possible virtual care technology will normalize access to leading health experts, for example, for second opinions?
A: Virtual-savvy consumers already are exploring on-demand consultations with physician specialists, from behavioral health specialists to dermatologists, neurologists and endocrinologists.
There is also a trend toward scheduled telehealth visits, compared with the one-time urgent care visits for which telehealth was once known. As both consumers and physicians explore what’s possible via telehealth, access to leading health experts, including for second opinions, will become both common and expected.
One of the signs that virtual care technology is normalizing access to leading health experts is the rising number of specialists who provide virtual care. In high-volume specialties like cardiology, surgery and pediatrics, the number of providers who offer virtual care increased tenfold during the pandemic. It’s also becoming clear that virtual access to specialty physicians is a competitive differentiator for hospitals.
Q: What is the outlook for virtual chronic care management?
A: Virtual chronic care management is accelerating. It’s a trend fueled not only by the rapid adoption of telehealth, but also the creative use of remote patient monitoring technologies to monitor and manage individuals’ health. One recent survey found 65% of benefits managers expect remote patient monitoring to increase this year, while the market for these technologies could reach $1.9 billion by 2026.
A top concern for providers is how to leverage the data from these devices to improve chronic care management. Leading systems invest in analytic tools that spot subtle changes in health using the data from these devices and automatically alert the patient’s care team. Clinicians use this intelligence to intervene early, protecting patients’ health.
Providers also must rethink their approach to engaging patients with chronic conditions in healthcare’s digital future. One emerging trend is virtual, condition-specific coaching for patients with chronic disease. The most effective virtual coaching programs deliver communications in the patient’s preferred format, from video chat, to email, to phone, to text.
Q: You’ve said that personalization will influence telehealth engagement. Please elaborate on this.
A: There are two dimensions to providing a highly personalized telehealth experience. One is to offer telehealth the way patients want to experience it, going beyond a cookie-cutter approach to focus on the needs of the individual. The other is to meet patients where they are by delivering telehealth on demand in the location where they feel most comfortable or that best meets their needs on a particular day.
Part of the appeal of telehealth is that providers are becoming more skilled at leveraging virtual care to deliver high-quality, highly personalized care that enhances the patient experience, whether through reduced wait times, ease of use or speed to insight.
Think of the number of behavioral health visits that shifted to telehealth out of necessity during the pandemic. Across health plans, behavioral health dominates telehealth claims. That’s a trend that is likely to continue after the pandemic due to the availability of mental healthcare on demand and the comfort of receiving care from the privacy of home – both of which impact the patient experience.
As healthcare providers become more skilled at tapping into large data sets such as genomic data, this will enhance their ability to personalize treatment to the individual – virtually and in person. The future of telehealth also will incorporate social determinants of health to keep members informed, engaged and supported in their health journey.