Originally published to HealthTech Magazine by Nathan Eddy on February 19, 2021. 

Normalizing telehealth and remote monitoring will require a new focus on patients’ digital experience.

The pandemic has accelerated the digital patient experience, forcing healthcare organizations to ramp up capabilities for telehealth, artificial intelligence-powered chatbots and remote home monitoring.

2020 report from Accenture, for example, documented the sharp increase in virtual visit volume during the pandemic, and the company’s estimates show that in the future, one in three healthcare visits may happen virtually.

“The pandemic has given doctors and patients an example of what’s possible, because of the forced adoption of digital tech to allow physical distance, which caused those digital experiences to be had by both constituencies,” says Dr. Kaveh Safavi, lead author of the report.

In doing so, the pandemic renewed momentum for services that, in the recent past, weren’t necessarily a priority area for growth. Safavi points out that the uptake of digital healthcare services had slowed just prior to the pandemic, primarily as a result of poor digital experience, patients’ trust level with virtual care and poor integration into care delivery systems.

“The pandemic addressed the last one — it forced the digital solutions, and as a result of that, workflows changed,” Safavi says. “What we’re seeing is people are conscious of the fact they’re safer at home, and now that people know what’s possible with virtual care, it puts a burden on the provider to make that part of their care package.”

How Providers Can Improve Patients’ Digital Experiences

ClearDATA CEO Darin Brannan agrees that the pandemic has greatly accelerated the demand for consumer-focused digital experiences. Now, the pressure is on providers to keep those initiatives moving forward — for example, by combining wearables with electronic health records and offering their patients AI-assisted online appointment scheduling.

“From payers to providers to pharma, consumers are now demanding new choices and interoperability to share their data,” Brannan says. “There are at least 10 or 15 major transformative trends resulting from the pandemic last year.”

Among the most important shifts that healthcare organizations need to make is improving the consumer-facing user experience — the “digital front door.” It’s a key component but one that, as Safavi notes, there wasn’t time to refine during the height of the pandemic.

Going forward, patients will not only want the option to interact with providers through digital channels, but they’ll also expect a high-quality user experience when they do so.

“It’s a critical component of the provider’s overall reputation and ability to be competitive,” Brannan says. “The website, the patient portal, the scheduling, educational resources, telehealth — if they haven’t transformed the interface for those services, patients will move on to someone who has.”

Hybrid Care Models Require Security and Privacy Protection

When it comes to smart devices, such as home monitoring solutions, Brannan says the pandemic also drove advances in remote managed care for people with chronic conditions. It’s also hastened the shift to hybrid care, in which remote monitoring and virtual visits complement in-person visits, designated for follow-up services and urgent care.

As providers move these services from a pandemic-driven necessity to a routine service offering, cybersecurity and patient privacy concerns will need to be a central focus, Brannan and Safavi say. As the public cloud gains broad acceptance as the only reasonable path to scalability, cloud security concerns, such as data leakage, are a big risk.

“There’s a real drive to have a specialized security domain around that cloud infrastructure, but you have to be aware of third-party vendor risks and tools like automation that help you keep pace with patching new features,” Brannan notes. “These are all risks that will have to be considered as the digitalization of healthcare continues.”