As we plan for the healthcare delivery of the future, one where significantly more care is delivered remotely, it would be ideal if we could avoid replicating the current transactional model of care while simply using digital or virtual care tools. Do you know what I mean? These tools that allow for video telehealth visits should not only be used for those periodic episodes of care that arise. These should enable a better flow of care that in no way resembles that old transactional model. Now that most everyone has overcome their fear of virtual care, we can use it routinely to connect with patients, check-in on their progress, and closely monitor their health during care transitions.
Many providers were already using telehealth and digital remote monitoring tools to keep in close touch with patients with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension where health setbacks and costly readmissions occur all too often. This enhanced communication promises to improve the health of the patients while reducing overall healthcare costs. We need to make sure that as a greater number of primary care physicians (and specialists) venture into virtual health, they take full advantage of the opportunity it presents. It would be a failure to simply slip back into our old mode of transactional care delivery using these powerful new digital tools.
The truth is, virtual health offers the opportunity for improved engagement between clinicians and patients. In a virtual health appointment, the patient can feel that he or she has the physician’s undivided attention. Routine checkups can feel more focused. Virtual tools should allow for quality followup conversations between the medical team and the patient, in the days and weeks following an appointment. This will be the new “high touch” aspect of care delivery. In the future, healthcare should feel more accessible. The care team should be more accessible. Care will be more convenient for patients, with providers meeting patients on their terms and in whatever location (home, office, practice) suits the individual. (I’m not even getting into the opportunity that connected devices hold for remote monitoring of patients’ health.)
In this new model, the relationship between provider and patient should not feel more distant. In fact, if done correctly, the new care delivery model should improve the connection between the care team and the patient. It should facilitate better communication. The new flexibility should be appreciated by the patients and their family members and break down barriers to care. Obviously, in the context of our COVID-19 experience, the patient’s ability to seek care without putting his or her health at risk should be highly valued.
All of that is to say that the new “no touch” world of healthcare delivery should not lead to patients feeling disconnected. We will learn how to deliver a high touch experience while also improving the overall quality of care.