Virtual care in the pandemic: Key lessons learned + new avenues for growth from AU Health and OU Health

The acceleration of virtual care adoption by both providers and patients during the pandemic has helped develop new telehealth opportunities and prepared health systems to deal with the latest virus resurgence.

During a Dec. 10 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Amwell, industry leaders discussed key lessons learned from their virtual care rollouts and expansions as well as opportunities they see for continued growth.

The presenters were:

  • Lauren Williams, population health director at Augusta (Ga.) University Health
  • Matthew Lyon, MD, emergency medicine vice chair at AU Health
  • Holly Adams, executive director of operations at Oklahoma University Physicians in Oklahoma City
  • Bobbie Beirne, associate director of operations at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Clinics
  • Heather Watters, RN, clinical specialist at Amwell

You can watch the entire webinar here. Below are five key takeaways and quotes from the presentation:

1. Telemedicine as part of an ecosystem helps bridge care gaps and reduce disparities.

"With this backbone of critical care telemedicine, we're able to bridge that continuity from emergency care all the way through discharge," Dr. Lyon said. "It helps decrease this rural-urban disparity by keeping people in their rural community and increasing the inpatient value of these rural hospitals, which then impacts their financial viability and keeps them open."

2. AU Health eyes telemedicine program growth through regional partnerships.

"For AU Health, we have growth opportunities with the Medical College of Georgia and regional campuses across the state," Ms. Williams said. "We have two hospital partners in the southwest part of Georgia that we haven't been able to provide the same level of care compared to other hospitals closer to us. If we're able to partner with a regional hospital campus for the Medical College of Georgia that is also 46 miles away from those rural hospitals, it's much better for the quality of care for those patients to have that access versus five hours from Augusta."

3. After the initial spring COVID-19 surge, OU Health sent out a provider survey to better understand telehealth experiences and standardization of virtual care platform, workflow and training.

"We learned that we had completely overestimated the ease of our population's acceptance of downloading an app for tele-visits," Ms. Adams said. "Within some of our population, managing an app and setting preferences was a common language. However, when you look at who you're serving in terms of acceptance and adoption, we realized that could be and was a barrier for some providers and care teams."

"With this feedback in mind, we worked with Amwell to standardize our platform," Ms. Adams said. "The company was already rolling out the Amwell Now platform, which I call kind of the 'Disney FastPass' approach to connecting virtually in a direct to consumer. We do have a secondary platform approved as well, but we have stopped use of any other systems and standardized around Amwell Now to manage, support and sustain care."

4. OU Health doubles down on standardizing scheduling guidelines and strengthening virtual care supplemental training.

"To improve provider engagement and maintain our great patient satisfaction rates, we are standardizing our pre-visit workflow, staffing and training throughout our clinics, and we are currently identifying providers to start an after-hours urgent care type of virtual care program for new and established patients," Ms. Beirne said.

5. Health systems can elevate their virtual care programs by following four steps: ongoing training, evaluations, flexibility and creating a team dedicated to telehealth, according to Ms. Watters.

"As your virtual program evolves, focus on ongoing training through peer-led webinars and offer elbow support early on; create goals at the beginning and report on them and celebrate them frequently; be upfront and honest with your providers that your program might be kind of clunky as you work through its beginnings; and create a team of super users to help with workflows, training and goal setting."

Click here to view the webinar presentation.


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