June 17, 2022
4 Takeaways from the American Telemedicine Association Conference
Staying abreast of this transitioning field can help healthcare providers make the most of upcoming opportunities.
So much has changed in virtual care in recent years, but the evolution is far from over. This spring, I attended ATA2022, the annual conference of the American Telemedicine Association, and took away several insights about the virtual care roadmap and how healthcare organizations can navigate it.
1. Sisyphus Reaches the Top of the Hill: Technology Is Driving a Shift from Episodic Care to Continuous Care
Virtual care continues to grow, from virtual visits with urgent care providers to remote patient monitoring (RPM) programs that support post-discharge, in-home care. It’s a trend enabled by adoption of existing technology — asynchronous point solutions and care tools paired with strong artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms — by a broader base of users, ultimately reaching the tipping point for widespread use and expanding applications for managing specific health conditions. These solutions exploded during the pandemic, boosted by a massive influx of venture capital into the virtual care market.
Much of that growth has focused on moving away from episodic care to a continuous-care model. Healthcare organizations can use this opportunity to develop direct relationships with providers who focus on long-term health.
2. The Tower of Babel Must Fall: Interoperability Is Key for Health Systems and Clinicians
Interoperability came up often at ATA2022. The increase in virtual care solutions is excellent, but tools must be able to talk to each other. Many organizations have released new RPM solutions, for example, especially in the wearables market, but each tends to have its own app. For example, there may be one for substance abuse disorder, another for managing diabetes, and others for hypertension, arrythmia and similar conditions. Clinicians need a single point of entry, to which all those tools should be connected.
Operationalizing individual solutions is a challenge for many health systems. Yet it’s essential if providers want to incorporate them into care coordination programs. That’s why healthcare organizations need to look at their landscapes to figure out where they can consolidate to manage disparate solutions with fewer tools. Solutions need a top layer that can compile relevant information and make it actionable — a move we’re starting to see as virtual solutions further integrate with electronic medical records.
Interoperability also relates to reducing clinicians’ administrative burden. Automated tools, such as AI bots, can perform application tasks that typically fall to clinicians, including documenting, double documenting and retrieving information. As providers expand their virtual care toolkits, they should strive to ensure that new solutions give clinicians more time, not less, to focus on patients.
3. The Chicken or the Egg: Spending Is Moving Outside the Hospital into Ambulatory Spaces
A shift toward ambulatory centers and home settings will drive both technological innovations and business-side changes, including an increase in mergers and acquisitions. Innovations in the use of technology within the ambulatory space will, in turn, require new technologies, which will enable additional ambulatory care models. The ongoing trend toward more acute care in the ambulatory world — spurred by the pandemic — has prompted that investment. In turn, such investments have enabled more acute care to be accomplished outside of traditional care environments. This cycle continues to push technology forward and change how patients receive care.
These shifts affect payment models as well. Because so much care will happen outside of traditional environments, payers and other large systems will likely compete for patients, even if hospital access becomes a smaller piece of that business. The upshot is that providers that want to be ahead of the game should invest in telehealth, RPM and other digital health technologies now, building solid programs and owning that space in their markets.
4. Don’t Forget Your Roots: Facility-Based Virtual Care Will Retain an Important Role
Virtual care in hospitals and other facilities remains essential, and there’s room for improvement. New technologies are advancing and transforming traditional telesitting models, virtual rounding, eICUs, and even tried-and-true programs like telestroke. As organizations care for more patients outside the hospital, in-patient acuity levels will climb. Continuous improvement of facility-based telemedicine capabilities can help providers address that need.
Story by Elliott Wilson, who has spent his career in nonprofit healthcare provider systems. He has built an extensive background forming and translating digital strategies that combine with on-the-ground clinical operational realities.