As the economy continues to emerge from social isolation, industries are evaluating the strength of their pandemic strategies in a post-pandemic world.
It’s obvious that the path back to normal is a forward-looking one — systems have changed too much to fall back into their former lines, and the world’s massive inadequacy to manage a pandemic has shown that they shouldn’t.
What is less clear as industries test out a “new normal” is what the future will look like — what emergency strategies will become standard and which ones will fall by the way.
For healthcare providers, pandemic strategy meant keeping patients out of the office through virtual visits, and rescheduling or cancelling routine appointments and elective, non-urgent procedures. The financial strain of pushing off non-emergency care was immediate and devastating: according to one survey, sixty-eight percent of providers faced substantial revenue losses as a result of decreased visits.
The need to bring those patients back into the office is critical, but complicated by a consumer landscape influenced by financial and safety concerns. Consumers foreseeing and fearing the impact of the pandemic on their health and wallets are reevaluating their healthcare decisions, and de-prioritizing what they might view as nonessential care.
A recent study out of PWC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) found that 32% of survey respondents had already made or were planning adjustments to their spending on healthcare visits as a result of COVID-19. Seventy-eight percent of these consumers said they would skip at least one visit such as a well visit, maintenance visit for a chronic illness, elective procedure or recommended lab test or screening.
The scaled nature of re-openings also complicates reactivation — even should patients be willing to return to normal scheduling levels, the return will be slow and staggered. Mira Ketzler, Senior Director of the Women’s Service Line at Advocate Aurora Health, described the reactivation of de-prioritized procedures as “the slow turning of a dial” and emphasized the importance of first creating a space that patients can feel safe to come to.
As practices navigate reopening, many are discovering that the remote care strategies they’ve implemented to meet the demands of the pandemic could be longer term solutions for a post-pandemic consumer landscape.
A recent article in Lancet Digital Health recommended the use of remote shared care delivery to help address the backlog of consultations arising from cancelled, non-urgent services. A more efficient approach than returning all at once to normal scheduling levels, the virtual nature of remote shared care can also circumvent the privacy concerns of an in-person environment.
Remote patient monitoring presents another solution, especially for sub-specialities like obstetric care. Just as in general healthcare, COVID concerns have forced OB-GYN practices to prioritize patients based on need. Practically, prioritizing OB appointments is the only option — a pregnancy can’t be put on pause or rescheduled like a pap smear or a cancer screening. This prioritization forced by the pandemic puts a heavy financial burden on practices, however, as “elective” GYN procedures drive much of the revenue for a practice.
Now that restrictions on in-person visits are lifting, reactivating those GYN patients is a critical necessity for practices looking to recuperate their revenue streams. It’s also an important strategy to maintain patient loyalty and prevent attrition, as patients facing long wait times to reschedule deprioritized procedures are more likely to start shopping other options, including direct-to-consumer solutions. With an OB-GYN practice frequently a point of entry into the entire health system for women (who, incidentally, make the majority of healthcare decisions for their families), bringing those patients back into the office as quickly as possible is crucial.
Keeping OB patients out of the office through remote monitoring is one way to free up space for GYN consultations and procedures. Several recent studies have shown the efficacy of remote patient monitoring for reducing in-person prenatal visits without affecting quality of care, and some providers have reduced in-person visits for patients from the traditional 12-14 to as few as five or six. Maintaining this reduced visit structure for OB patients allows practices to address the GYN backlog and to recoup the revenue that those lost consultations represent.
Arguably, the positive responses of providers and patients to remote care options have paved the way for their continued use. Despite being initiated out of necessity in many cases, virtual care options may now be the difference-maker for many patients choosing a practice for their future care, and what is ultimately a sound financial decision for a practice may also translate into brand loyalty.
The future of health care in a post-Covid world is still unclear, but virtual care is one strategy that looks to outlast the pandemic.