Health systems’ telehealth strategies shifting as pandemic winds down

The Covid-19 pandemic upended traditional care delivery and spurred the rapid adoption of telehealth at health systems across the country. Now, more than a year into the public health crisis, these entities are reflecting on their journey and looking ahead to how their telehealth programs will evolve from here now that the pandemic is slowing down.

At a virtual session on Tuesday during the American Telemedicine Association’s 5th Annual Conference & Expo, health system leaders outlined how their strategies for telehealth are changing, with some looking to redefine their strategy and others looking to enhance the services they are currently offering.

Like with many health systems, New Orleans-based Ochsner Health previously looked at telehealth as a differentiator, but now it is “table stakes for us,” said Jennifer Humbert, the system’s assistant vice president of telehealth, during the session.

During this shift from a nice-to-have to a must-have, Ochsner Health had to transition its telehealth plan to an “and” strategy. This means the health system is approaching innovation comprehensively, looking to buy and build the platforms and capabilities that will help differentiate the system’s telehealth program from its competitors.

“It’s reinvent and optimize and sustain and think about the change management that still needs to happen [with our telehealth services],” Humbert said.

This “and” strategy will guide the health system going forward, especially now that the health system will have to figure out how to sustain the momentum behind telehealth rather than keep up with the exponential demand seen last year.

One way in which Ochsner plans to do this is to move beyond just creating parity between a telehealth and in-person visit for patients, Humbert said. Rather, the health system’s focus is now on redesigning care delivery and the consumer expectations around it.

For Yale New Haven Health System, the strategy moving forward with telehealth is slightly different.

The New Haven, Connecticut-based health system is working to tweak its telehealth services and provide a more seamless experience for patients, said Nikki Delucia, director of ambulatory telehealth, during the session.

For example, the health system established MyChart Call Center, which merges inbound calls from patients who need help with virtual care capabilities and the outbound calls the health system makes to ensure patients are ready for their video visits. The call center team is trained on both sides so the team can conduct either type of call and fulfill demand as needed, Delucia said.

Yale New Haven’s strategy with regard to outbound calls has also changed. Initially, the health system was reaching out by age group because usually older adults had more difficulty in figuring out the applications and systems required for virtual visits, she said. But now, anyone who wants technical assistance can ask for it when they call in, by pressing the number 1.

“So many patients have experience now with video visits that we don’t need to reach out to everyone,” Delucia said. “We really want to reach out to those who need the help and that’s how we have scaled and moved forward with our telehealth assistance group.”

Aside from ensuring adequate technical support for patients, the health system has also taken pains to have its telehealth visits mirror in-person visits as much as possible, she said. This involves providing additional support to patients as they move through the digital landscape to make sure patient care does not fall through the cracks.

For instance, the health system has a team that helps patients fill out questionnaires and medical history forms in the virtual waiting room, as well as a virtual clinical receptionist who ensures that patients have the information they need after a video visit and follow-up appointments are in place.

Panelists from Yale and Ochsner solidified the notion that telehealth is here to stay. But health systems’ strategy with regard to these programs will continue to change as the landscape of care delivery and patient expectations evolve.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images 

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