Virtual Visits Abruptly Became The Only Way For Care
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, physician response changed quickly when it became apparent that the only way they were going to be able to help their patients was through virtual visits.
COVID-19 is fundamentally reshaping our institutions, economies and workplaces. Matt Stanton, Executive Director, Digital Health, has managed a sea change of digital health during the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, “When the crisis hit, the response by the physicians changed very quickly as they realized that virtual visits were a key way that they were going to be able to care for their patients.”
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Providing access anytime and anywhere has been a part of Cleveland Clinic’s strategy since 2015. When it began offering virtual visits in 2014, the institution had completed more than 100,000 outpatient visits prior to the pandemic. Six months into 2020, the volume of virtual visits has jumped to more than 500,000.
“We went through a very interesting and rocky ramp-up to meet the new volumes. We’ve had a long-standing platform that we’ve used for virtual visits for many years,” Stanton explains. “The use of the virtual visit hovered around one percent of overall outpatient visits for the organization, far below our aspiration for this technology and the enterprise’s strategic goal. However, the adoption of digital health tools has now skyrocketed as a result of treating patients during the COVID-19 outbreak and at certain points, more than 50 percent of the visits have been done virtually.”
For the providers and patients, the readiness of digital delivery of care was promising in the midst of fear and anxiety caused by this dreaded and deadly disease. However, the digital health team leaders faced a new concern.
Stanton continues, “When the tidal wave of visits hit, the platform was just not ready for that type of volume. We triaged thousands of patients. We had a lot of challenges to overcome, and our team was scrambling for several weeks.”
Through leadership and resources, including an agile workforce, the platform was bolstered by additional technology. However, despite the success, implementation brought with it unforeseen challenges.
“A lot of what it comes down to is the ease of use for the patient and the ease of use for the provider. As providers grew more confident in the solution to deliver care, it was the patients who found it exceedingly difficult to get this technology to work for them. That’s probably our biggest issue now—the patient struggling with adopting this new technology, at least for their first virtual visit.”
Innovation in the face of adversity is fundamental to Cleveland Clinic’s brand. The impact of the pandemic hastened the pace for the technology already in development. While they had their challenges, the achievements of the digital teams put the organization ahead of the game in terms of adopting virtual visits.
Stanton credits the teams for their effort and ability adding, “We had already invested the time in technology solutions to be able to maintain a significant portion of our patients—now virtually. I’m equally proud of some of the other accomplishments, such as new e-Visits specifically designed for triaging large numbers of COVID-19 patients as efficiently as possible. New innovative platforms were developed and released within a week, and they were deployed with capabilities we had never done before.”
This drive to elevate patient care through digital delivery resulted in yet another innovation: Care Companion. It is a new tool designed for patients providing daily check-ins. While it was launched in support of the need to monitor COVID-19-positive patients during their care at home, the same approach is now being used to adopt new approaches to chronic disease management.
These same types of tools will be leveraged for mainstream chronic disease management making healthcare more flexible while increasing the ability to provide care where and when patients need it. As the pendulum begins to swing back to the traditional in-office exams and visits, physicians recognize the future is not all virtual visits, but a combination of the right tools in the right place at the right time to provide optimum care for patients.
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