The immediate effect of COVID-19 on the healthcare system was that it pushed care much closer to where the patient already is, meaning their home. That trend was already happening, with telehealth and digital assessment tools, but the fear of seeing a doctor in person has accelerated it far beyond what was expected at this stage. Almost overnight these tools went from a “nice to have” to ” have to have.”
In many ways, that will be a positive change for both the patient and the physician, according to a panel of healthcare experts at Vator and HP’s Future of Virtual Care event on Wednesday
Moderated by Archana Dubey (Global Medical Director, HP) and Bambi Francisco Roizen (Founder & CEO, Vator), the panel featured Dr. Peter Antall (Chief Medical Officer, Amwell), Priya Abani (CEO, AliveCor), Ann Mond Johnson (CEO, American Telemedicine Association) and Sunny Kumar (Partner, GSR Ventures).
The topic of remote patient monitoring came up when Dubey asked Johnson if she saw that value-based dollars could be tied into increased adoption. Basically, can things like virtual care and remote patient monitoring be integrated into the patient care model?
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Johnson’s response: “Absolutely.”
“Pre-COVID, what was clear was that telehealth did okay in a fee-for-service environment or cash only environment, but it soared in a value-based environment,” she said, noting that what the American Telemedicine Association is advocating for now is “that telehealth is really acknowledged as health, and as a modality of care.”
“It’s never going to replace everything that’s done in-person, but it certainly has a legitimate role. We saw it not just with the synchronous communication, the audio and video, or the audio only, but we also saw with the asynchronous, the ability for chat forward or interactive assessments to really help the delivery systems and physician practices scale their response.”
Johnson also called remote monitoring “a complete unsung hero in all of this,” mentioning organizations like Livongo, “who have done an amazing job with remote monitoring, recognizing that you don’t want people to go to places where they’re exposed unnecessarily to danger or to infection.”
“People want to stay home. I mean, in a time like this, yeah, sure, parts of the country are going a little bit crazy now, but they want to stay home and they want to be able to be taken care of at home. So, I think remote monitoring is just astonishing.”
Dubey then asked Kumar what he saw in the virtual care space pre-COVID and how it now affecting the portfolio at GSR Ventures. His response was that, “There’s been a massive change in behavior.”
“That’s been a significant driver of the adoption that we’re seeing across the board, across a number of different dimensions. Many of my physician colleagues simply didn’t use telemedicine before, it was a small minority of physicians that were truly virtually enabled, ready to go in the pre-COVID world and when COVID hit, everybody had to switch, had to be able to be virtually enabled, if you were going to continue to see patients at anywhere close to the previous volumes that you were delivering.”
The main issue in getting care right now, Kumar said, is transportation and actually getting to the doctor, especially if you need public transportation. The other major issue is a lack of doctors, so anything that makes them the physician efficient, such as remote monitoring, is a big focus for the firm right now.
“At the end of the day, we have to find a way to make those physicians much more efficient and able to deliver care across a broader swath of the population. And that’s what gets us really excited. We look at companies that are developing solutions that can make physicians more efficient by delivering virtual care, so not just a one-to-one replacement of a video visit with in-person visit, but allowing that physician to deliver that care over the same amount of time to 2x, 3x 10x the number of patients. That’s how we really believe you’re going to bend the cost curve and really solve underlying access issues, whether it be across primary care, mental health, and a number of other issues,” he said.
“The post-COVID world should be one in which we have made physicians not only able to reach a broader number of patients, but also made them much more efficient in being able to do so.”
Francisco then turned to Antall and asked him what possibilities he is seeing in virtual care, and, specifically, which services are staying within the virtual care space, instead of moving to traditional care.
Antall began his answer by referring back to what Kumar said about aiding physicians.
“We talk about things that make providers more efficient, working at the top of their license, using other provider levels, but there’s everything from documentation support to crunching and understanding data on the patient that occurs outside of visits,” he said, while also mentioning some of the technologies that have allowed asynchronous visits to flourish.
“One thing we saw accelerate very rapidly during COVID was the use of chatbots. Everyone and anyone seemed to have a COVID chatbot screener all of a sudden, within a few weeks, and we’re bullish about chatbots, we use chatbots in our waiting rooms as a way to engage the patient and a way to gather data for the visit. It helps with documentation support, for example, it helps to screen out for certain things. We’re very bullish in that area, either as standalone interactions or also integrated into the provider flow.”