September 29, 2022

Article
3 min

Optimize Virtual Care with These Best Practices

Platform solutions, integration and clinical automation help providers streamline post-pandemic virtual care.

Elliott Wilson

When I talk with healthcare providers about virtual care, I remind them that virtual care isn’t a strategy — it’s an enabler of strategy. That’s a helpful distinction as organizations evaluate virtual care solutions they adopted before or during the pandemic and determine where to go next.

It’s easy to start with the technology and build processes around it. A better move is to begin by asking what problems you want to solve or what objectives you want to achieve, with input from service line, operational and strategic leaders. Are you building access? Pursuing digital health equity? Aiming to be a cost leader in a specific business line? Once you determine your strategy, you can look for virtual care tools that will enable that strategy as broadly as possible. 

In the post-pandemic era, virtual care continues its rapid evolution, which means providers have an excellent opportunity to rethink — and improve — these vital solutions and services.

Healthcare Providers Move from Point Solutions to Platforms

Telemedicine is just one aspect of virtual care, but it’s an area where many providers are focused. The stopgap measures, ad hoc platforms and tools that weren’t HIPAA-compliant worked for a while, and providers have since been standardizing the solutions and processes they adopted quickly in 2020.

One way to approach standardization is to consider point solutions versus platform solutions. Point solutions serve limited use cases, while platform solutions can be foundational for numerous applications. In recent years, many providers have purchased both types of solutions for various business lines, and they now must determine which ones to maintain, expand or eliminate.

In general, providers are moving away from point solutions in favor of versatile platforms. Even if you’re only looking to solve one problem, there may be opportunities to implement a platform that can solve additional problems or help standardize the solution across the organization.

That said, some point solutions are so valuable or specific — for example, tools that provide remote stroke assessment — that an organization may choose to keep them anyway. The question then becomes how to plug those point solutions into the platform that’s supporting the rest of your use cases. 

The answer lies with integration.

Integrate Virtual Care Tools for a Seamless Clinician Experience

One of virtual care’s biggest challenges is integrating various solutions into a larger ecosystem. For instance, how many virtual care tools are separate from the rest of the clinician or patient experience? Do clinicians have to leave the electronic health records (EHRs) they may be working in to use point solutions? How does data then flow into the EHR? 

The best strategy is to build a layer of integration above the EHR and virtual care solutions that enables clinicians to work within a consistent platform tailored to their roles. That layer lives in the cloud, pulls from multiple data sources and solutions, and delivers a seamless user experience.

Integration is essential because EHRs are so central to clinicians’ workflows. This will only become more critical as virtual care applications continue to expand. Providers must enhance productivity and ensure that technology fades into the background so that providers and patients can focus on care.

Use Clinical Automation to Streamline Virtual Care Workflows

Virtual processes and workflows shouldn’t just mimic in-person activities. When designing virtual care services, it’s tempting to replicate the processes we’re used to. However, virtual care will be more efficient if providers take time to redesign processes specifically for virtual scenarios.

In person, for example, providers typically ask patients to show an ID at check-in. Translating that to a virtual workflow doesn’t necessarily make sense, and it burdens patients to upload images. An alternative solution would be using artificial intelligence (AI) to review a picture of the ID on file to determine if the patient needs to provide additional verification. 

Clinical automation, in general, has broad potential in virtual care. For instance, AI can augment patient monitoring via computer vision to detect when a patient is likely to fall or get out of bed and alert clinicians. With remote patient monitoring, data collected from a diabetes pump can flow directly into an EHR to update a care plan automatically

The idea is addition through subtraction. How can we add value by using technology to take care of administrative activities for clinicians and patients? That’s a great way to find success when moving to the next evolution of virtual care.

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.