By: Justin Williams, CEO at Noteworth, a digital health startup dedicated to rethinking healthcare delivery |
The rapid expansion and adoption of digital healthcare forced by the pandemic is remarkable, especially for an industry where change is typically slower to take hold. Driven by the need to reduce in-person visits and minimize patient and staff exposure to infection, healthcare organizations quickly rolled out virtual care options to ensure patients-in-need didn’t fall through the cracks or experience treatment delays. Now more than a year later, it’s clear that the expansion of digital health has the potential to yield benefits for both patients and providers well beyond tackling the immediate care needs of the pandemic.
Studies consistently show strong patient support of virtual care options thanks to benefits such as convenience, better access to clinicians, and greater empowerment of patients to actively manage their own health. Moreover, patients are gravitating toward “person-enabled care” that considers their individual needs, values, and personalized health goals, versus one-size-fits-all traditional care models. Providers appreciate the efficiencies digital health delivers, particularly when it comes to remote patient monitoring, chronic condition and disease management, and care coordination.
Projections for the future of digital health solutions are strong. The McKinsey report on healthcare technology reports global digital health revenue could reach $600 billion in 2024 — up from $350 billion in 2019 — stemming from advancements and adoption in telemedicine, online pharmacies, and wearable devices. Two specific areas where digital health will undoubtedly emerge as a heavy hitter in the ambulatory space are managing chronic conditions and diseases, and addressing the mounting behavioral health crisis.
Virtual tools extend care impact beyond episodic visits, putting patients anywhere they are at clinicians’ fingertips. Interacting with patients through continuous monitoring and increased touchpoints allows for proactive treatment and intervention, which is especially valuable when managing chronic conditions. Digital tools enable clinicians to seamlessly coordinate care, monitor and manage medications, and answer patient questions or clarify care instructions without requiring repeated in-person visits. This leads to more consistent, efficient care delivery and improved outcomes.
Another growing population that benefits from high-touch engagement are those in need of behavioral and mental health care. The gap between supply and demand for behavioral health services was staggering before Covid-19, and it continues to worsen, with 53% of U.S. adults reporting negative mental health impacts from the pandemic. With many experts projecting that a behavioral health crisis will be the next pandemic, organizations must invest now in digital tools that increase touchpoints and allow for more effective patient monitoring and intervention.
The best digital tools to address behavioral health go beyond simple video visits. Leveraging a holistic virtual care platform that collects and presents patient data into a centralized view for the entire care team allows for effective tracking of patient-reported outcomes (PROs), management of medications, and coordination among the patient’s care circle. Additionally, harnessing the data allows care teams to proactively reach out to high-risk or vulnerable populations (i.e. patients with diagnoses of anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, and more) to deliver specialized messaging, guidance, or proactive interventions to address problems before they lead to complications or hospitalizations.
Healthcare organizations that wish to better address social determinants of health and access to care will find digital tools indispensable when it comes to making care accessible regardless of geography, mobility, and transportation. Ultimately, a digital-first approach to care management using a comprehensive virtual care platform drives value for organizations looking to increase clinical consistency, create repeatable care plans, and facilitate standardized workflows across each patient population or chronic condition. Patients enjoy a convenient, high-touch and personalized experience, and healthcare organizations can scale more efficiently and drive patient engagement and brand preference.
There’s no question that digital healthcare is here to stay and it’s time for hospitals and providers to evaluate, reimagine, and think strategically about their long-term approach to delivering care digitally, beyond simple telehealth visits.