The pandemic was a test of our resilience. Around the globe, patients and providers were impacted by COVID in new and unprecedented ways. Close to 600,000 U.S. lives were lost and another three million were lost globally. Over $4 trillion was spent in response to the pandemic and its economic effects. Healthcare workers performed heroic feats, putting their lives on the line to deal with multiple surges of COVID patients surge. And we underwent a period of isolation with social distancing protocols put into place that impacted our social, emotional, physical, and mental health. 

At the start of the pandemic, our healthcare system did not have the technology, treatment or infrastructure in place to fight COVID. And yet, a year and a half later, we developed and are now distributing COVID vaccines to the masses with hopes for a return to normalcy.

As we exit the pandemic and plan for the next iteration of healthcare delivery, we reflect on the lessons learned, assess how it changed consumers and providers, and evaluate the opportunities for virtual care in a post-pandemic era. 

What is the current state of healthcare?

We are shifting away from virtual care as a replacement for ‘real’ care where a real provider takes care of a real patient in real time through the use of digital doorways. They allow providers to reach out to patients in a more predictable, responsive, and reliable manner than a physical provider can. It’s becoming a new standard of care.

What doors opened in virtual care delivery during the pandemic?

The pandemic proved that virtual care is not an alternative but true health care being delivered. When providers weren’t physically able to go into skilled nursing facilities because of high COVID infection rates, we were grafted into the clinical workflows on a predictable and repeatable basis to prevent hospitalizations and transfers. 

What’s the payer perspective on virtual care?

Payers are beginning to look at our services differently for aging patient populations. We’ve traditionally concentrated on post-acute and rural acute but are now expanding to the home to help manage the readmission risk cycle. Payers are interested in covering the various points of care from the rural acute hospital to the skilled nursing facility to the home to minimize patients’ readmission risk. We can help cover the home-based risk window with remote patient monitoring and proactive provider outreach.

What’s the provider perspective on virtual care?

Providers are already moving towards a more hybrid model where they’re having dynamic interactions with patients. As an example, technology allows for a lesion to be evaluated, analyzed and diagnosed with high levels of accuracy. If you have skin lesions that need to be monitored throughout the year, why not have these checked on a quarterly basis through a virtual interaction with your provider? If the lesion is identified as one that needs to be managed, you can come in for an in-person visit. 

What doors opened for TeleHealth Solution during the pandemic?

Our company saw tremendous growth in skilled nursing facilities and rural acute hospitals through patient rounding and point of care interactions with patients. We were brought into the care continuum in a new way and became a trusted point of care by being grafted into the clinical workflow.

How is virtual care impacting patient care and outcomes?

We’re dramatically lowering the number of ER transfers and preventing avoidable hospitalizations, which is great in terms of outcomes for patients and their families. We’re also moving the needle on financial metrics that lower the cost of care. 

Who are the winners and losers in virtual care?

Rural acute hospitals performed well during the pandemic as they were able to demonstrate that high quality community care could be delivered digitally. The losers in the pandemic are companies that are trying to use technology as the tool for delivering healthcare as opposed to an enabler for access to care.

If you could make one prediction for virtual care, what would that be? 

Virtual care is going to allow for higher quality care to be delivered on a more consistent and sustained basis in a manner that patients will utilize more often. This will help reduce ER visits and hospitalizations, particularly for chronic patients, because they’ll be managed more efficiently and in a manner where interventions can occur in a timely manner to reduce adverse events.

About Author

Robert Crutchfield - CEO of Telehealth Solution - headshotRobert Crutchfield is an innovator, venture capitalist and healthcare leader focused on advancing science, technology, and medicine. In his current role as Chief Executive Officer of TeleHealth Solution, a leading virtual care provider of 24/7/365 care for post-acute facilities and rural-acute hospitals, he leads the overall operations and management of the company’s growth. He is also the executive director of HotSpot Ventures, LLC.