By Tom Schwieterman, MD, MBA
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a breakthrough event for telehealth, showing how the technology can be a powerful tool that markedly expands the definition of “point of care.” Nearly all healthcare organizations urgently adopted the technology as a means to maintain the delivery of care while keeping patients and staff safe from viral contagion exposure risk.
Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations were ill-equipped to accommodate the dramatic shift within their traditional clinic ecosystems. Numerous caregivers, despite months of ‘practice,’ continue to struggle with integrating technology into pre-pandemic workflows while maintaining effective patient-caregiver interaction.
Telehealth does not simply offer an “apples to apples” replacement of the traditional in-person visit. Rather, it is more effective as a means for augmenting disease management and traditional care protocols, which continue to require intermittent onsite care experiences. As such, the clinic is forced to change as disease care adapts to a new norm.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the exam room, which must accommodate both in-person and virtual visits. The face-to-face visit and virtual visit must be seamless partners in cohesive patient care, with each acting synergistically to facilitate the other.
Telehealth technology seems to be here to stay. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently proposed changes that would expand telehealth permanently as a means to further broaden access to care for everyone, including those living in rural areas.
Following are two suggestions that could help healthcare organizations ensure a seamless integration of telehealth at the point of care.
This suggestion can be a quick and easy solution. Employ mobile workstations to deliver care anywhere and foster a more accessible, patient-centered experience. The workstation offers an optimal platform for supporting virtual care.
Many mobile workstations currently on the market can be customized to the unique needs of the provider, thus allowing health systems to optimize the platform for their specific telehealth program. They can also easily incorporate advanced technology, such as cameras, digital instruments and expanded monitors. Some carts provide a wide range of optimization, allowing providers to maintain an ergonomically correct working position, whether seated or standing.
This suggestion may require a reconfiguration or redesign of the space. Utilize a workflow design that establishes two distinct patient care zones within the exam room, providing clear separation between the care zone for in-person caregiver interaction and a dedicated private zone where virtual visits can be conducted.
This virtual visit zone should be designed to enhance the experience for the patient. The quality of the audio, video lighting and background can greatly impact someone participating in a virtual call. The separation of virtual and in-person allows physicians to incorporate telehealth into their practice without infringing on the efficiency and effectiveness of either one.
The ‘coming of age’ of telehealth will continue to transform the point of care ecosystem for years to come. The expanded access to care provides powerful opportunities to improve outcomes and lower costs. Giving deliberate thought to exactly how the technology is supported and integrated into the exam room will help ensure the valuable time shared between the caregiver and patient (whether in-person or virtually) remains the highest priority during the patient journey.