Patient volumes are near 2019 levels for many healthcare providers, even as they continue to be impacted by waves of COVID-19 cases due to newly emerging variants. Some of the approximately 40 percent of Americans who delayed medical care during the height of the pandemic, especially those with a chronic condition and mental health issues, are now re-engaging and scheduling appointments with their providers. 

For providers, getting patients in for delayed screenings and care is important because avoidance of medical care has the potential to increase morbidity and mortality associated with both chronic and acute health conditions. Delayed care also leads to poor health outcomes as well as decreased patient  satisfaction and Star Ratings for the practice. Among those reporting delayed care, roughly 55 percent reported experiencing negative health consequences as a result. 

Other ramifications of delayed treatment due to the COVID-19 pandemic are increasing hospital admission rates, delayed diagnoses and gaps in care. As we mentioned in a previous blog, these gaps in care have the potential to challenge both providers and payers, especially those responsible for managing high-risk populations. These entities not only face uncertain revenue levels but underutilization of healthcare, resulting in undertreatment of chronic disease and a negative impact on long-term mental health outcomes. 

How Telehealth Visits Identify Gaps in Care 

Addressing gaps in care not only assists providers by improving access to follow-up care,  achieving better population health outcomes and increasing patient loyalty, it also offers an opportunity to improve patient care and a practice’s quality metrics, coordinate needed care and create more opportunities for more incentive dollars from payers. 

Creating an outreach plan to reach specific patient populations based on their conditions can make a gap closure plan more manageable and successful. Making telehealth utilization an intrinsic part of this outreach strategy also helps to focus on and close such gaps in care. 

Telehealth usage has stabilized at levels 38x higher than before the pandemic, even after telehealth claim lines increased nearly 3,000 percent between September 2019 and September 2020. This growth in telehealth adoption is the result of three primary factors:

  • Increased consumer willingness to use telehealth
  • Increased provider willingness to use telehealth
  • Regulatory changes enabling greater access and reimbursement 

Lessons Learned During a Public Health Emergency

Telehealth has been an essential component of the medical response to COVID-19 by reducing demand on strained healthcare infrastructure and enabling health care needs to be met at home while reducing exposure for patients and medical staff. As part of an overall virtual care strategy, it has enabled providers to remotely care for patients located in rural areas who previously received lower-quality health care and had worse patient outcomes compared with residents of more populated areas. 

Telehealth platforms integrated with electronic health record (EHR) systems offer even better capabilities for providers to more easily spot care gaps and are particularly effective for closing gaps in care for post-surgical patients, reducing the risk of readmissions and an extended recovery period. A physician practice can also use a patient’s COVID-19 vaccine appointment to schedule a telehealth visit to discuss any gaps in care. 

Some telehealth visits offer physicians a different insight into a patient’s living situation and surroundings. They enable clinicians to involve a patient’s family and better understand the patient’s home circumstances that can compromise their health. Patient care can be proactive instead of reactive, thereby reducing costs for both patients and payers. 

Using Telehealth Services to Increase Patient Satisfaction 

Telehealth wouldn’t be a sustainable technology option if patients weren’t satisfied with it. Almost 80 percent of people who used telehealth during COVID-19 reported patient satisfaction, and more than 70 percent expect to access virtual care post-pandemic. Over 80 percent of patients reported good overall visit quality, and 78 percent said they felt their health concern could be addressed via telehealth, findings that were consistent across age, insurance type and urban/rural status. 

More than 75 percent of respondents said they’d like to continue using telehealth for chronic disease management. Over half of consumers in broadband households are interested in interacting with medical professionals remotely for a variety of circumstances, including follow-up care, routine check-ups and treatment of a chronic condition. Almost three-quarters of patients in younger generations prefer virtual care and say they may switch providers if telehealth visits aren’t offered going forward. 

Why is patient satisfaction so high with telehealth? Some patients cite telehealth’s capability to maintain patient-provider relationships, while others are impressed with strong patient-provider communication during their virtual visits. Many patients enjoy the convenience telehealth offers and not having to deal with transportation issues, long wait times to see their physician(s) and lengthy in-office wait times. Member satisfaction with telehealth encounters can even impact customer retention for health plans. 

For patients with mental health issues, telehealth expands the range of behavioral health offerings and allows them to increase their privacy by avoiding in-person visits with a therapist. Without outside environmental factors impeding their treatment, these patients are more likely to seek and maintain treatment. 

Telehealth Through Rural Health Clinics

For patients living in rural areas of the United States, telehealth usage offers expanded access to specialty care. These clinical consultations conducted through video visits, including from rural health centers, are associated with high patient satisfaction and lower costs without a difference in clinical outcomes compared to in-person consultations. 

Improving Patient-Provider Relationship 

Trust is a fundamental component of the physician-patient relationship. Positive correlations associated with a trusted physician-patient relationship include increased treatment plan adherence, longer provider relationship and perceived effectiveness of care. Negative correlations associated with a distrustful physician-patient relationship are lower rates of accessing care, preventative services and surgical interventions. 

Telehealth use lets physicians establish a relationship with new patients, who with a positive experience will more likely return to the practice. It can drive consumers to establish a relationship with the provider organization, either through a primary care physician or by leveraging their specialist network after a virtual care visit.

Find out how Providertech solutions can be utilized to conduct automated patient outreach and support your telehealth program. Also, check out our Three Key Strategies for Closing Care Gaps After the COVID-19 Pandemic.