The 'Alexa-fication' of healthcare: 3 key insights into virtual care

As patients' out-of-pocket healthcare costs continue to rise, health systems must work to deliver convenient, quality care that's worth the price, according to Dr. Bob Monteverdi, Lenovo Health's global director of healthcare solutions. In this consumer-driven environment, patients may become less brand-loyal than they used to be, which means even big-name health systems may need to rethink strategy.

"[If] you're now paying for a much bigger portion of your healthcare than you used to, it's not really that different than any other major purchase. Car, house, vacation, whatever it may be, you're taking your dollars and trying to get the best bang for the buck," Dr. Monteverdi said. "It's a new world for healthcare to deal with … no matter which side of equation you're on — payer, provider or patient."

The consumerization of care has pushed telemedicine and virtual care forward, Dr. Monteverdi said during a Feb. 28 webinar sponsored by Lenovo Health and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review. Dr. Monteverdi was joined by Vianova Health CEO Farhad Chowdhury and Health Innovation Think Tank Co-Founder and Industry Strategist Justin T. Barnes. The presenters discussed how virtual care could enhance patient care, as well as best practices for implementation.   

Opportunities driving virtual care

With the ability to improve disease management, outcomes, access, reimbursement and physician and patient satisfaction, virtual care is here to stay, according to Dr. Monteverdi. Plus, he said, about 70 percent of U.S. patients have reported they're interested in care plans involving this kind of technology.

Another important contribution virtual care could make is improving medication and care plan adherence, Mr. Chowdhury noted. Rather than diagnosing patients, he said, virtual care is well-suited to perform the consistent follow-up work and check-ins physicians aren't always able to accomplish.

Virtual care applications

With care moving out of the hospital and into the home, chatbots, virtual nurses and smart speakers have been increasingly used to augment patient monitoring. This "Alexa-fication of healthcare," as Mr. Chowdhury called it, is a necessary effort. Even as little as 30 days after a patient sees their physician, the rate of drop-off in care plan adherence is significant.

According to Mr. Chowdhury, up to 70 percent of non-adherence issues among chronic disease patients could be solved through the development of two habits: taking vitals on time and taking medication as prescribed.

To help patients develop those habits, Mr. Chowdhury said virtual nurses can "augment, assist or amplify your existing staff to do what physicians or nurses aren't meant to do, which is the consistent, daily or even multiple times a day follow-up."

At least one technology already achieves this. Rosie, a virtual nurse fully dedicated to healthcare, engages patients at home with consistent check-ins and data from up to 400 biometric devices, such as glucometer and blood pressure cuffs. Rosie determines what patients' personal motivators are, as well as what reinforcements or rewards they respond to best.

At the same time, Rosie and other virtual nurse technologies offer coordination between patients and clinical staff. They inform providers when patients stop adhering to care plans, encourage outreach and use social reinforcement to promote healthy habits.

Strategies to succeed

Because virtual care could contribute to significant improvements in care quality — and therefore, an organization's viability — it's important to know best practices for implementation, according to Mr. Barnes. Mr. Barnes' Health Innovation Think Tank asked more than 200 provider rganizations to share effective telehealth strategies. Overall, those who got the most out of a virtual care investment were able to clearly define their goal, whether that was to attract customers, expand reach, enhance access, or some combination of the three, Mr. Barnes explained.

It's crucial to use telehealth to connect patients to a trusted primary care physician who has medical record access, one respondent said. Another large health system achieved its virtual care goals by integrating solutions into existing workflows with proper change management.

For successful virtual care integration, it's best to start with a single disease type or a select group of anywhere from 100 to 1,000 patients, Mr. Barnes said.

"Building virtual care into every fabric of the health system [is crucial]; it's not a standalone," he emphasized. "That has been reinforced over and over with all of our Think Tanks as we dive into the best practices. Provide adequate time for telehealth and virtual care to have the proper buy-in and support, and you have to integrate change management."

By applying those practices and meeting patient demand for quality and affordability through virtual care, according to Mr. Barnes, organizations can lay the foundation for long-term viability.

To view the webinar, click here. To access the webinar slides, click here.

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