Making it real: How to go from talking about digital health strategy to delivering meaningful long-term transformation

Following the initial surge in virtual care during the pandemic, demand is receding. Health systems are grappling with the long-term role of digital and virtual technologies. As they contemplate future strategies, organizations are weighing both provider and consumer preferences.

In a roundtable sponsored by Teladoc Health at Becker's Hospital Review's 12th Annual Meeting in Chicago, Tony Burke, senior vice president, Teladoc Health, facilitated a discussion about the future of care delivery and the role of technology.

Four key takeaways were:

  1. While virtual care is here to stay, digital health strategies often exist in name only. Based on the experiences of the past year, clinicians and patients agree that virtual care will be part of healthcare's future delivery model.

    However, according to preliminary survey findings from The Health Management Academy and Teladoc Health cited by Mr. Burke, a majority of CXOs said their organization had a systemwide digital strategy but less than 10 percent said it was sufficient. "We still have a lot to do to take advantage of the investments already made," he said. "We need to move from the fragmented approaches used during the crisis to full integration and optimization."

  1. If digital solutions are not seamless, providers may default to former ways of delivering care. A roundtable participant emphasized the need to optimize virtual care delivery to support buy in. "When you implement technology, you may get it 80 percent right, and still need to optimize the other 20 percent," she said. "We're very bad at optimizing things. We get one chance to get the work done. We need to do it quickly to make sure we abide by internal political conditions."

  2. Achieving higher adoption of virtual care requires understanding patients' needs. "In my community health center, we have about a 25 percent adoption of telemedicine," one participant said. "As we recruit physicians, we have a discussion early on to understand their willingness to accept telemedicine, but we discuss it through the lens of a patient."

    This health center discusses the importance of social determinants as a driver of virtual care, explaining that a patient may have to choose between going to work and getting to a traditional in-person visit. "These conversations have led to higher levels of [telehealth] adoption because we help providers understand the risks [in terms of patient outcomes] of maintaining a certain practice model."

  1. Moving digital transformation and virtual care adoption forward requires focusing on high-impact activities, prioritizing initiatives and getting champions to help secure buy-in. One participant explained how his organization's new leadership is focusing "on the 5 percent [of activities] that are going to make a big difference." Right now, that 5 percent is optimizing the system's online scheduling.

    "During COVID, people put a lot of things on the back bench," a participant said. "Now everybody wants to do everything. Clinicians are tired and burned out. So what is our priority?"

    An executive from a health system on the East Coast shared that the system's patients are driving their strategy. "We found that physicians who were early adopters and those clinicians that helped redesign workflows for the technology are now a part of the process," he said. "They understand how it makes their work more efficient. That's a way to get buy-in."

Health systems can make significant strides toward long-term transformation involving digital health strategies and virtual care by working with a partner who complements their core business, shares goals, aligns incentives and risks, operates with mutual respect and nurtures a consultative relationship.

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