Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va., had been planning to roll out a multipronged digital front door strategy over the next 24 months. But as COVID-19 cases mounted in the spring, executives realized they needed to move faster.
Executives in healthcare for years have been discussing the so-called “digital front door,” wanting to use new technologies to engage patients outside a facility’s walls. But with many health systems compelled to restrict patients from walking into their actual physical front doors at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, executives had to revisit those plans, pushing out new chatbot symptom checkers and at-home virtual visits.
COVID-19 “hasn’t changed our thinking” about patient-centered care, said Nancy Agee, Carilion Clinic’s CEO. But it has accelerated “how far and how fast” the system moved toward implementing tasks already on its to-do list.
Agee is in good company. Seventy-three percent of CEOs in Modern Healthcare’s Power Panel survey said their focus on consumerism increased amid COVID-19, with the remaining 27% saying their focus stayed the same.
At Carilion Clinic, that included expanding the roster of tools that patients use to connect with the system online, such as rolling out options to self-schedule appointments and pay bills. And Carilion is developing an app, dubbed MyCarilion, which will centralize where patients access those services as well as educational videos, directions to facilities and on-demand telehealth.
Across the board, telehealth has played a major role in how health systems are keeping patients outside of the hospital, but still connected to their care team.
All CEOs who responded to Modern Healthcare’s Power Panel survey indicated they’d increased their telehealth investments during the pandemic. CEOs are chosen to participate in the survey.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health in Lebanon, N.H., was averaging just three telehealth visits per week before COVID-19 hit; at the height of the pandemic, it was conducting up to 2,000 virtual visits a day. To make sure patients were prepared for a telehealth visit, medical assistants called patients the day before their appointment to walk them through the process and how to use the technology.
Even if telehealth use slows as the pandemic subsides, as some experts predict will happen, it’ll still be a powerful option for patients, said Dr. Joanne Conroy, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health’s CEO. In the health system’s territory in New Hampshire and Vermont, telehealth could prove a useful tool to avoid missed patient appointments during snow storms, she said.
“People appreciated the importance of virtual everything during the pandemic,” she said. “I don’t think all of that is going to go away.”
Moving forward, Dartmouth-Hitchcock sees telehealth as a market opportunity. The health system is working to create a direct-to-consumer urgent-care telehealth program, which could help to attract new patients, according to Conroy. The program, which is still being developed, will initially roll out to the health system’s employees, who will provide feedback.