While virtual care is becoming increasingly more ubiquitous — holding steady in primary care and continuing to grow in behavioral health — it is still often seen as merely an alternative care delivery method. Most leaders undervalue and underutilize virtual care, leaving valuable benefits of virtual care behind.

In last week’s telehealth Tuesday where I first talked about using virtual care to care for more patients, I listed the first 6 of 12 ways how healthcare organizations can use virtual care to serve more patients.

Last week’s list included the following applications:

1. Use RPM for chronic disease management — patients’ health is better managed, they need fewer regular visits, opening up appointment slots for others.

2. Leverage more time-efficient video visits – especially when bundled, more patients can be seen via video than in an in-person environment, all without the slightest dent in satisfaction, because patients get what they want.

3. Convert no-shows and cancellations to video visits – by catching no-shows in time or by offering virtual care as an alternative to a cancellation, provider capacity increases as rescheduled appointments are not clogging up future schedules.

4. Use asynchronous messaging for health maintenance – especially in a value-based environment it can pay off to pay attention to patients, especially those with multiple chronic diseases. “A text a day keeps the doctor away.”

5. Offer Tele Triage – we now have the technology and understanding to start the doctor visit much earlier and to leverage video as a visual tool to provide great customer service. And in many cases, it is not your doctor that needs to see that patient.

6. Leverage virtual integrated behavioral health for improved chronic disease health maintenance – chronic disease care that focuses only on physical health will not be as efficacious as an approach that leverages therapy to treat symptoms or root causes. Stabilized chronic care patients are an asset vs. a liability.

6 More Ways to Serve Patients Through Virtual Care

Here are another half dozen approaches to using virtual care to decrease utilization, add clinical value, and increase provider capacity.

7. Serve a wider geographic area through virtual care options.

No matter the size of your clinic, virtual care can attract numerous patients who have a choice to receive care from two or three places. The convenience, especially in rural America, makes up for any downsides. And the virtual-only competition without their brick-and-mortar infrastructure, can swiftly advertise convenient access at a low cost — but cannot offer the benefit of in-person follow-through.

Smart leaders offer patients convenient choices that build loyalty and increase market reach and market share.

8. Set up site-to-site visits for capacity management

Patient demand is not always predictable and provider availability due to illness or family leave will also fluctuate. But rather than canceling a full day’s worth of appointments, offering patients telehealth at their usual clinic, but with a provider in a different town provides a win-win for the patient and your clinic. And oftentimes, due to inevitable no-shows or cancellations, most clinic systems have excess capacity that could be filled with virtual appointments.

9. Hire virtual-only providers

Many healthcare leaders, especially in rural areas, are complaining how hard it is to recruit good and willing talent to their team. A provider who only serves your patients virtually can quickly increase provider capacity. The flexibility afforded by this arrangement is appealing to many and time-to-hire is usually much faster than trying to recruit “bodies in buildings”.

10. Offer more work-hour and work-location flexibility

Covid, the staffing shortage, and other factors have greatly contributed to industry-wide clinician burnout. Yet telehealth can afford burnt-out clinicians with variety as well as flexibility. A young parent on maternity/paternity leave can work a few hours from home or even offer evening visits. With a good internet connection and up-to-date state licensing requirements, clinicians can travel or work from a different location while caring for an aging parent.

11. Provide virtual access to specialists

For decades academic medical health centers have applied this tried and true model of providing access to their specialty care through local clinics. While patients may initially only seek out third-party specialty care consults, gaining familiarity with your clinic staff and maybe finding an engaged primary care provider can also increase

12. Leverage eConsults and Project ECHO

Last but not least, any patient that can be cared for locally is a win for the patient, the family, and can accelerate their recovery. Project ECHO expands the capabilities of clinicians to provide excellent, fact-based care for unique and not so well understood conditions such as Hepatitis C or AIDS, or provide much-needed peer support for increased resilience.

The Opportunities are (virtually) endless

There are virtually no limits to the many positive opportunities that virtual care can create for any organization of any size. And the need to embrace change and become really good at it does not only come from virtual care. Just around the corner are a plethora of digital health tools waiting to be evaluated for their merits and then trialed in a proof of concept.

We’re no longer living in a world where healthcare only reinvents itself every 25 or 30 years. The pace of the world has increased and it is only going to go faster.

Why not start today to see what virtual care can do for your organization?

Am I writing about topics that are of interest to you? Let me know if you have questions about telehealth in specialty care, inpatient telehealth, or other scenarios!

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Christian Milaster and his team optimize Telehealth Services for health systems and physician practices. Christian is the Founder and President of Ingenium Digital Health Advisors where he and his expert consortium partner with healthcare leaders to enable the delivery of extraordinary care.

Contact Christian by phone or text at 657-464-3648, via email, or video chat.