Resist the urge to 'go back to normal': Mayo Clinic CEO sees digital health, virtual hospital as keys to improving access to healthcare

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Gianrico Farrugia, MD, CEO of Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, penned an article for U.S. News & World Report saying the pandemic highlighted the need to revolutionize healthcare delivery to eliminate disparities in access to care and deliver better outcomes.

Dr. Farrugia, in the July 28 article, said the health system is looking particularly at digital transformation to thrive in the future.

Telehealth, for example, expanded at Mayo Clinic from 200 visits per week to about 35,000 visits per week. Mayo Clinic had the infrastructure in place, and government waivers made it possible to deliver needed services remotely.

"It's now up to us to design a system where people can seamlessly move among various care models to get exactly the right care at the right time — delivering satisfying patient experiences and better outcomes at lower costs for both individual patients and the nation as a whole," wrote Dr. Farrugia. "But like a stiff rubber band, once stretched, healthcare will reflexively snap back unless we intervene."

Healthcare doesn't have a "perfect past" to which the industry should return, argued Dr. Farrugia, and virtual care corrects several of the access to care issues patients and communities face. He also highlighted the system's hospital-at-home program, which rose to prominence during the pandemic. Mayo Clinic partnered with Medically Home recently to manage conditions that used to keep patients in the hospital remotely through high-quality virtual and in-person visits to the home.

The level of collaboration between skilled nursing facilities, lab testing and services such as meals or laundry "requires healthcare to shift from a product-based approach to platforms" said Dr. Farrugia. Mayo Clinic is using the virtual hospital model to explore resources for the COVID-19 response and provide care beyond the pandemic to balance with the in-hospital services.

"Moving forward, the healthcare sector must fully embrace platform and digital technologies along with cross-sector partnerships as our new set point, while actively resisting the urge to 'get back to normal,'" wrote Dr. Farrugia. "With that firmly in mind, let's build on our progress to create a healthcare experience that is more data-driven, equitable, accessible and supportive of the patients that need us."


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