Industry Voices—The pandemic will usher in a slew of connected solutions in 2020

Older patient using telehealth
As we continue to adjust to “the new normal,” the ultimate goal is to have patients feel supported without having to physically step foot into a doctor’s office, says GetWellNetwork's Michael O'Neil. (Agenturfotografin/Shutterstock)
COVID-19 has already started to reshape society in many ways, but this pandemic has had the biggest impact on the healthcare industry.
 
While this virus has unfortunately claimed the lives of so many people and has put unbelievable stress on hospitals and health systems across the country, I believe that we have learned some very valuable lessons that will forever change the way clinicians approach patient care.

We’ll see a slew of new connected solutions enter the space in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, especially digital health tools including the introduction of triage bots and increased deployment of virtual capabilities into health system portals, payer applications and third-party service organizations to comply with social distancing mandates.
 
Over the next few months, the industry conversation will shift toward which best practices will have staying power and which changes will be left behind.

Virtual healthcare is here to stay

Healthcare providers may have been slower to implement this technology initially, but the adoption of telemedicine shifted into hyper-drive during the month of April. The current situation has accelerated consumer demand for virtual health by five years and, according to analysts at Forrester Research, virtual healthcare interactions are on pace to top 1 billion by the end of 2020.  

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Patients want healthcare to be accessible, easy, inexpensive and on demand digitally in the palm of their hand, just like how they do everything else in their lives, from grocery shopping to dating. In order to evolve and meet this new consumer need, the traditional health system must adapt and provide patients personalized, longitudinal and episodic care differently.

And, COVID-19 has brought all this to the immediate surface, as treating the virus effectively and safely relies so heavily on a patient’s ability to self-manage and follow symptoms and a plan of care, often from home to reduce the spread and avoid waiting rooms.

As the connected care train chugs forward and the industry adapts, adoption of virtual visits and telehealth will increase through targeted dynamic communication, adaptive advertisement and user training programs. Consumers are relying on technology to get the convenience they crave, and they will expect that same level of care even after this pandemic is under control.  

Greater focus on interoperability is imminent 

Consumerization and patient loyalty continue to drive many of today’s health system conversations, and actionable interoperability has remained one of the greatest barriers to meaningful and measurable outcomes. The healthcare system as a whole is changing, and hospitals are starting to realize the importance of interoperability, especially given the added patient volume from the pandemic.

We should expect to see more organizations adopting trusted data frameworks because it puts the patient at the center, while simultaneously giving providers more transparency among different hospitals and facilities across their broader organization.

Healthcare is an area where inequities are troubling, yet we have the tools to address if we break down traditional barriers and models. The use of technology and data to provide better access and quality care to all will be even more important as we continue to work through the inevitable second and possible third waves of this pandemic. Health IT companies are being forced to interoperate and share data to improve patient care, providing a unique situation and a launching point to standardize care and get everyone on the same page as we prepare for looming waves of this virus and beyond.

Patients will take a more active role in their care

At the start of this new decade, consumerization across the healthcare industry was already in full force, with both startups and established commercial entities pushing into primary and urgent care to provide high-quality, convenient and low-cost healthcare for their employees.

Given the current healthcare climate, patient access and acquisition has become an even more strategic linchpin for both traditional and nontraditional healthcare providers, with many leveraging population health solutions to save costs and remain competitive to attract and retain talent in an industry that experienced a huge burden due to the pandemic. I expect this trend to continue, with organizations taking a more consumer-centric approach to healthcare and providing access to advanced technologies, while actively monitoring the proliferation of convenience-driven options to avoid consumer confusion.

As an industry, we’ve made significant strides in recent years bringing technology’s potential to the forefront. Through showcasing its value prop and benefits to create a more collaborative patient experience, we’ve empowered clinicians to help patients and families take a more active role in their healthcare journeys and deliver outcomes that matter. Transforming the patient experience has become a core strategy for hospitals around the globe and given millions a voice in their care and I don’t expect this momentum to slow.

As we continue to adjust to “the new normal,” the ultimate goal is to have patients feel supported, without having to physically step foot into a doctor’s office. One part of consumer health that has been neglected since the start of the pandemic is the guilt that non-coronavirus patients might be feeling.

If patients are ill with something other than COVID-19 and are not in an emergency situation, they might be less inclined to seek care in hopes of not clogging up hospitals and taking away from doctors' precious time and energy that should be focused on fighting the pandemic. In order to eliminate the psychological impact of putting people at risk, we’ll see healthcare providers continue to lean on virtual health solutions and remote patient monitoring to enable consumers to make less visits to the doctor.

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Incorporating patient generated health data with artificial intelligence will make it easier for clinicians to monitor patients from afar and the increasing use of telemedicine consults will help prescreen patients and potentially avoid the need for in-person attention, further limiting potential exposure to the virus. 

As cliche as it sounds, we are experiencing an unprecedented pandemic that is certainly having a devastating impact on our world. While it can be easy to dwell on the negativity, it is also important to take a step back to reflect on the valuable insights we can take away from this sweeping virus in hopes of reshaping our healthcare industry to be prepared to lean on technology for whatever comes next in this battle against COVID-19. 

Michael O’Neil is founder and CEO of GetWellNetwork, a technology company that licenses patient engagement software to healthcare providers in pursuit of improved outcomes. He is also an Aspen Institute Health Innovators Fellow.