From Text to Telehealth: How Technology Is Changing Patient Engagement in a COVID-19 World

Dr. Tashfeen Ekram, Co-founder & Chief Medical Officer, Luma Health
Twitter: @lumahealthhq 

If there was any doubt before the coronavirus pandemic, it’s now crystal clear: Tech will be at the center of patient care moving forward. From the way we communicate to patients about their appointments and care to delivering that care, the role technology plays has dramatically shifted since the early days of 2020.

A 28x increase in communications
A deep dive into 5.7 million interactions between doctors and patients from late January – when the COVID-19 crisis hit the U.S. – through March 2020 begins to quantify that shift: A 28x increase in messages sent to patients over a 65-day period.

As providers we know that delivering accurate and consistent information to patients can impact health outcomes, so when a new virus shows up in our backyard, it’s more critical than ever that we communicate effectively and often with our patient communities. It’s promising that the numbers from across the U.S. show just that.

  • West: 40x increase in broadcast messages to patients
  • Southeast: 22.9x increase in broadcast messages to patients
  • Northeast: 21.7x increase in broadcast messages to patients
  • Southwest: 11.6x increase in broadcast messages to patients
  • Midwest: 8.7x increase in broadcast messages to patients

In California, one of the states hit early and hard by COVID-19, providers increased patient communications more than 91x over, with 206,000 messages broadcast between late January and March. On the other side of the country, in New York, there was a 16x increase over the same period (both states with approximately the same number of cases in early March).

Technology both highlights and fills the gaps
With six in 10 Americans living with at least one chronic disease, simply having a channel through which to communicate with a provider isn’t enough – something we saw early on during the pandemic. Patients need consistent and seamless access to care.

Over the past few months, 74 percent of primary care providers report that their phone lines have become flooded with calls from patients, demonstrating a significant need to have a process in place to connect, inform and engage quickly and easily.

Effective communications and telehealth can help fill the void
Identifying and screening patients who are most at risk of contracting the new coronavirus is a priority. Using simple text messages to deliver automated surveys and digitize screenings has proven effective for providers across the U.S. — particularly among at-risk populations or those in areas with community spread of COVID-19. Many providers are pulling information directly from their EHR to identify high-risk patients and digitize screening efforts. Some bigger systems, like University of California San Francisco (UCSF), are even using technology to screen and triage patients coming to the ER.

While more than half – 54 percent – of primary care clinics have had to cancel well and chronic care visits due to COVID-19, 83 percent of primary care physicians report having telehealth appointments available. Those numbers will shift as parts of the country begin to re-open, but these early numbers demonstrate the important role telehealth will play in helping to maintain access to care and allowing offices to refill scheduled openings caused by the dramatic increase in cancellations.

COVID-19 has shown us that, when it comes to delivering care, technology is no longer a nice to have. As coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., it’s necessary to ensure seamless care for patients – both with and without COVID-19. From a patient’s first appointment to the continuation of care, technology will further enable providers to deliver care seamlessly and effectively, in ways that are enjoyable – and simple – for the patient.