Pandemic or Not, Virtual Health Is the Future of Care
healthcaretechoutlook

Pandemic or Not, Virtual Health Is the Future of Care

Dr. Ethan Bachrach, MD, Chief Medical Informatics Officer, TeamHealth

Dr. Ethan Bachrach, MD, Chief Medical Informatics Officer, TeamHealth

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold across the United States, healthcare providers faced a pressing question: how do we provide medically necessary care to patients while optimizing their safety, maximizing clinician availability, and addressing challenging access issues? The answer to those questions already had a foothold in the healthcare industry but was far from being used to its full potential: telehealth. That’s why TeamHealth, the leading physician practice in the U.S., launched a new VirtualCare service line to provide patients and clients with access to top-tier clinicians on an industry-leading platform with the operations and administrative know-how to back it up.

The need to bring care to patients, as opposed to bring patients to care, has been accentuated during the pandemic due to widespread restrictions on non-emergency care, and where patients have been hesitant to visit a medical facility. VirtualCare, however, is not a pandemic-era stopgap. Our services can expand the footprint of health systems we serve, treating patients who are unable or unwilling to visit a brick-and-mortar facility due to physical constraints, geographic restriction, or the inconvenience of a physical appointment. In areas where hospitals and doctors’ offices are more than a short drive away, or for patients who lack access to transportation, VirtualCare can make the difference as to whether a patient receives care at all for an acute condition.

Making telehealth a long-term solution means viewing it as a medical tool within a sophisticated delivery model, rather than solely as a piece of technology. Hospitals and health systems look to us because we believe VirtualCare should be run by healthcare providers rather than technology companies, with a focus on quality, safety, patient experience, efficiencies, and integration with patients’ systems of care. Where clinically appropriate, we believe in offering patients care where they are, and as part of a comprehensive healthcare delivery system that allows our clinicians to deliver virtual urgent care and virtual emergency department discharge follow-up care.

TeamHealth VirtualCare is built around more than just our technology. Our true differentiator is the level of commitment from both our administrative and clinical teams, providing unmatched expertise, the highest level of service to clients, and the highest quality care to patients. Every clinician working in TeamHealth VirtualCare is an experienced emergency medicine provider, bringing patients the expertise they would receive in an urgent care or emergency department setting. We select clinicians who are tech savvy and nimble, with a level of comfort in telehealth that goes beyond formal medical training.

"Our services can expand the footprint of health systems we serve, treating patients who are unable or unwilling to visit a brick-and-mortar facility due to physical constraints, geographic restriction, or the inconvenience of a physical appointment."

TeamHealth VirtualCare provides solutions that both alleviate strained facilities and lead to positive outcomes for patients. Over fifty percent of patients seen by TeamHealth VirtualCare clinicians report that they would have otherwise visited an urgent care facility, while five percent would have gone to the emergency room. Our patients are extremely pleased with the service they receive, reporting a satisfaction score of 4.8 out of 5; while more than 80 percent of our patients report requiring no additional care for their presenting complaint after completing their visit. VirtualCare provides convenient care, a high level of patient satisfaction, and high-quality care to a population of patients that do not require the resources of a brick-and-mortar urgent care or emergency department. This can be an important care option when those facilities are strained by high patient volumes and resource limitations.

Moving care outside the physical facility requires clinicians and healthcare organizations to approach information security, system reliability and care continuity as core functions of the care delivery model rather than an afterthought. This is not someone else’s problem; but our shared responsibility. We provide our care using an industry-leading platform with a focus on information security as well as patient experience and clinician workflows. We account for variables that allow patients to use VirtualCare on their own devices with an excellent experience, while securely maintaining and reliably sharing that information with appropriate clinicians and entities to ensure continuity of care. We back this up with a dedicated team of information technology professionals and clinical application specialists to provide a highly reliable infrastructure for care.

Our clinical and operations teams work directly with our health system partners to develop business and care continuity plans in the event of technology disruptions which may be caused by power outages, network issues, or other events that might inhibit communication among providers and between providers and patients. We test our contingency plans because we know firsthand that care comes first.

Telehealth has been on the minds of clinicians and healthcare organizations for years, and its widespread adoption and implementation has been significantly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve also seen avid and enthusiastic adoption of this method of care by patients themselves. TeamHealth is a leader in VirtualCare precisely because we recognize our hospital and health system partners need to successfully implement telehealth clinical models as part of a highly reliable system of care. VirtualCare is not a stopgap. It is a developing expectation of our patients, and a care modality proven to provide high-quality, efficient, and convenient care with a high level of patient satisfaction.

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