Digital Transformation Demands Practical Interoperability in a World Shaped by COVID-19

By G. Cameron Deemer, President, DrFirst
Twitter: @DrFirst

As COVID-19 spread across the nation, the healthcare industry quickly turned to technology to address pressing challenges, from how to make care accessible to caring for critically ill patients, all while protecting frontline workers from exposure to the virus. The speed of innovation and adoption has been remarkable, especially given the inertia that previously kept providers and the healthcare industry at-large from more broadly adopting new tools and technologies.

COVID-19 will continue to pose a serious threat to our well-being until a vaccine is developed and widely administered. In this new reality, a more mobile healthcare delivery system has emerged, exposing opportunities for strategic technology solutions that support the industry’s digital transformation, and changes in consumer behavior that have already begun to emerge.

Tools to Support Greater Access to Health Information
Across the U.S., stay-at-home orders issued in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus halted hospitals’ elective procedures and closed physician offices to most in-person visits. Many individuals simply stopped seeking care altogether. Others turned to virtual services, and adoption of telehealth swelled as public and private insurers expanded reimbursements for these services and people realized the convenience of seeing clinicians from the safety of their homes.

Nearly half of U.S. consumers are using telehealth to replace canceled healthcare visits, compared to just 11 percent in 2019, and providers are seeing between 50 and 175 times more patients via telehealth than before, according to a consumer survey conducted in April of this year. With many months to go before a viable vaccine is available, it is hard to believe we will go back to the anemic levels of virtual care that we had pre-pandemic. Driven by convenience and safety concerns, people are likely to continue to turn to telehealth services, whether with their own primary care doctor or with an unfamiliar clinician.

In this new mobile care environment, consumers will benefit from technology that gives them the healthcare information they need when they need it. Imagine, for example, that you could easily and securely access your medical records and prescriptions via a mobile app, which can be shared with family members or caregivers – so no matter how and when you receive care or which physician you see, your essential medical information is at your fingertips.

While mobile care has many advantages for consumers, one potential disadvantage is the continued erosion of the traditional physician-patient relationship. Declining numbers of Americans have had a primary care provider in recent years, and the growing popularity and convenience of virtual care is likely to further this change, leaving patients with fewer trusted resources to turn to for unanswered questions.

In our COVID-19 world, it’s more important than ever to provide patients with tools that give them the trusted information they need, when they need it, in a way they can easily understand it. We already have solutions that can advance this goal, such as notifying patients about medications sent to their pharmacy, including information about their co-pay amounts, uses and side effects, and ways to potentially save on out-of-pocket costs.

Tools to Support Changing Practices
Since the start of the pandemic, medical practices of all sizes and specialties report an average volume decline of 60 percent, even as many replaced in-person visits with virtual ones. COVID-19 will undoubtedly continue to drive practice transformation to more virtual services; one analysis suggests up to 20 percent—or $250 billion—of all office, outpatient, and home healthcare across Medicare, Medicaid, and commercially insured populations could be done virtually.

As struggling practices and hospitals alike look to ramp up care safely, technologies that enable maximum efficiency and information sharing will be essential. Point-of-care tools that streamline workflow and share information may be especially helpful. If you are a physician caring for a patient furloughed from his or her job, such tools can allow you to easily see out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions in the electronic health record (EHR), so you could discuss more affordable options during the visit. In another scenario, if you are a physician caring for a patient who has received care via telehealth from other clinicians, you can see summaries of those visits in the workflow and follow-up. And does the patient’s insurance require prior authorization for a procedure or specialist visit? The right tools can provide immediate answers about that, too, directly in the EHR.

In addition to workflow improvement, practical digital tools can help provide flexibility and mobility for clinicians. As providers consider available technologies, they should seek solutions that support secure communication with their care teams, other clinicians, and patients, whether they are in the office, at home, or somewhere in between. In addition, the tools should include the flexibility and convenience of prescribing on the go.

Historically resistant to change, the healthcare sector met its match with the pandemic – and digital change has been swift. As we adapt to the new normal and recalibrate technology’s role in healthcare, staying connected with powerful, simple, and effective tools that can help providers take care of patients anywhere and collaborate with their team will be more important—and possible—than ever.