Remember Blockbuster Video? At its peak in 2004, Blockbuster had more than 9,000 locations. By 2010, the company was bankrupt. What happened? In short, consumer behavior changed, but Blockbuster didn’t. Streaming video meant customers could skip the entire Blockbuster experience — the trudge to the video store, the lines, movies being out of stock, late fees — and instead enjoy their favorite movies without getting off the couch.
Blockbuster is a cautionary tale about what happens when organizations fail to adapt in a timely way to new technologies and customer preferences. In healthcare, a similar technological transformation is underway which neither hospitals nor digital entrepreneurs can afford to miss. It’s the rise of digital health — sometimes called telehealth or remote care — and it’s upending the traditional in-person, clinic-based care model.
While healthcare providers used to ask, “What can we treat virtually?,” in the age of COVID-19 the question is, “What has to be treated in person?” Even before the pandemic, 72% of patients in one survey expressed an interest in telehealth. By 2019, 11% of U.S. consumers had used telehealth services. In the first months of 2020, as the pandemic tightened its grip, that number surged to 46% — and of these patients, 83% were using telehealth for the first time, an indicator of its growing acceptance. In total, there could be an estimated 1 billion telehealth appointments this year. Although post-pandemic the number of virtual appointments will likely decline, virtual care is here to stay. By one estimate 40% of primary care visits can be achieved through virtual appointments.
For healthcare providers, the message is clear: if they don’t get on board and make digital options seamlessly available to consumers, they risk being left behind as their patients seek out low-cost virtual care options elsewhere.
At the same time, the rise of virtual care creates opportunities for technology entrepreneurs. By offering innovative solutions to drive the success of digital care within health systems, these entrepreneurs are in a position to shape the future of healthcare.
However, digital care inside of a health system can be complex. With virtual care now ubiquitous, what do health systems and entrepreneurs need to know about making digital care work well?
Here are three key insights:
Digital technology can impact healthcare delivery in a number of ways. It helps patients find system-based care options using an online search engine, extends the reach of a health system’s care, drives growth and new revenue, and supports population health initiatives. At the same time, virtual care solutions such as at-home chronic care management tools, remote patient monitoring, and automated follow-ups can significantly reduce hospital admissions and lower costs while boosting patient satisfaction. How well health systems and technology providers integrate virtual technologies and give patients a seamless experience will differentiate them from competitors.
Digital Patient Engagement
Digital technology that keeps patients engaged and connected to the health system and engaged with their health — even between episodes of care — offers new opportunities for health systems from a patient satisfaction, population heath, as well as quality of care perspective. Though mostly associated with acute care, digital care is also ideally suited to chronic care management, allowing providers to check-in frequently with their patients. This results in more consistent support and better outcomes when compared to more in-depth, but less frequent, appointments. Through data, messaging, and patient engagement platforms, providers can create a healthcare experience unique to each patient. These patients are more likely to remain in-network and actively participate in their own care.
Patient Navigation and Routing
Matching physician supply and patient demand and optimizing access across a health system’s lines of business is an essential step toward scaling digital care and reducing the total cost of care. Technologies that help route patients to the right kind of care provider for their needs, rather than the only provider available at their location, have quickly become essential. Moreover, virtual care allows providers to match patients with their choice of care delivery — for example, on-demand care, scheduled care — regardless of whether it’s delivered in person or via chat, video, or voice.
Providence’s Digital Innovation Group shares digital insights and opportunities about these three trends — telehealth, digital patient engagement, and optimized routing — in a free report: “Distributed Care & Digital Health Acceleration.” This report is part of the Digital Innovation Group’s COVID-19 Digital Insight Series. You can see the entire series of reports, and download any of them at no cost, in the group’s Resource Center.
The rise of digital care is a prime example of how consumers are driving change in the healthcare marketplace. With knowledge and planning, healthcare providers and entrepreneurs can stay ahead of this shift in consumer demand, avoid a Blockbuster-like fate, and tap digital care’s game-changing possibilities.
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