One of the few benefits of the Covid-19 crisis is the adoption and reach of virtual health solutions to reduce exposure, concerns and impacts to viruses. Virtual visits have become common, on a large scale: Medicare virtual visits have increased by more than 1000%, and many health systems are now seeing virtually 50% or more of their patients.
Below these figures are several noteworthy trends. First, while the virus surge has led to unprecedented increases in virtual visits, many health systems have already experienced some decline in virtual visits as they weather the wave. Secondly, the vast majority of new virtual visits took place using telephone or video technology, a more convenient but dated methodology that met critical needs but does not leverage new technologies and methods that offer greater convenience and efficiency to the supplier.
This is the time to advance to the next level of virtual health, not to slip back. Healthcare systems should adopt an omni-channel strategy that includes asynchronous virtual visit capabilities to better meet consumer needs, improve provider capacity, and enable stronger virtual care models.
Asynchronous care refers to a mode in which there is no real-time continuous interaction between patient and provider or between providers. Most commonly, this is an offline store-and-forward approach where the patient completes questions or a form, which are then reviewed, evaluated, and answered by the provider when they are available. In recent years, SMS, text, chat, AI and other technologies have also been developed. These asynchronous approaches represent the next level in the most cost-effective and efficient virtual health interactions, enabled by technology for three important reasons.
Primarily, asynchronous assistance provides consumers with a robust and differentiated self-service experience. They can initiate a visit or interaction with support anytime, anywhere and from any device. For the first few generations of text, this is their preferred way of communicating, and surprisingly, seniors have also expressed a strong interest in text communications. Prices are also substantially lower than a video visit or an in-person visit.
Second, but perhaps more importantly, is the impact on the provider’s efficiency, capacity and experience. A typical asynchronous visit can be completed in as little as 3 minutes or less, compared to a typical 20-minute in-person visit or an efficient 10-minute video visit. The driver of this efficiency is that patient data is collected and structured in a common format for physician review. The economic aspect is clear: 3-6 visits in the same time it takes to make a video or a visit in person. Provider capacity can be created using asynchronous technologies, which are particularly useful for primary or specialist practices with access restrictions.
From a vendor experience perspective, vendors can respond when available and have the luxury of receiving structured clinical data and, in some solutions, even present best practice guidelines for treatments and medications. In the case of asynchronous provider-to-provider consultations, many of the same attributes apply. Furthermore, although these tools initially focused on low-acuity care, the ability to cover primary, chronic and specialist care is expanding rapidly. Vendors consistently report that providing support in this mode has been less stressful and cost-effective, helping to cope with vendor burnout.
Finally, key to a digital-first strategy, asynchronous care can accelerate digital care delivery models. The digital intelligence built into these technologies increases vendor business and enables them to exercise their license to the fullest, promote adherence to best practices, and automate routine tasks. Furthermore, the opportunity to reduce friction and increase fidelity through integration with other digital touchpoints in the patient journey is very strong. Leaders in asynchronous care are already linking virtual visits with chatbot symptom control, visit follow-up, educational materials, and even health tracking across consumer devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit. This frictionless flow of digital assistance is transformative and should be a key element of a digital assistance strategy.
To be fair, asynchronous assistance hasn’t been adopted more broadly due to two key barriers. From a financial standpoint, not all states will reimburse for these visits, although this is changing rapidly, with California being the most recent and substantial example. The human factor is the second. Assistance augmented by artificial intelligence and / or automated rules that determine best practice responses is a different assistance model and many feel uncomfortable trusting it. Eye care feels more like traditional care. However, the volume of asynchronous care, like video, skyrocketed during the Covid-19 crisis, and efficiency and affordability are powerful incentives.
Looking ahead, asynchronous care is likely to become a stakes for health systems over the next 18-24 months. The tools will continue to get smarter and assist suppliers in more ways and with higher levels of acuity. Eventually, the distinction between modalities will disappear and care will be automatically optimized by modality and location, based solely on clinical requirements and patient preferences.
The provision of asynchronous care is certainly not the only virtual visit solution, but it is a fundamental channel and a significant opportunity. Any health system that is trying not only to survive but also to thrive in this new environment must have this ability to deliver care. It is a key part of owning onramp, increasing market share, and acquiring and delivering value. This is the time to take the next step.
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