Virtual care has grown by 240% in Canada since April 2020, with 45% of clinicians choosing to implement virtual care services into their practices1,2. 1 in 4 Americans have used telemedicine services during the pandemic, and the use of virtual care has increased ten-fold in China since March 20203. Although virtual care was a growing “trend” prior to 2020, the tide has certainly shifted as we embrace a digital-first mentality in healthcare, our workplaces, and our lives. With this evolution in mind, we’ve put together a list of three emerging virtual healthcare trends for 2021; trends we hope transform into real opportunities for change in our healthcare systems.
1. Digital home healthcare programs as the new, and expected, standard:
Canada’s older population is larger than its younger members, with more than 5.9 million seniors compared to 5.8 million aged 14 years and under4. As more Canadians begin to “age in place” and remain at home, different systems of care need to be built to support their health and wellbeing. This is especially true while we continue to manage the complexities of delivering healthcare–while keeping vulnerable people safe– during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
We believe that virtual home healthcare programs, like CarePartners Connect by OnCall’s customer CarePartners, will begin to emerge as the home healthcare standard. Virtual homecare programs can include video check-ins and virtual therapy services, so continuous real-time patient monitoring is possible. It also means that healthcare providers can create a circle of care around a patient by connecting with other providers and caregivers through group virtual features. With the addition of virtual programs, healthcare providers and systems can generate a holistic healthcare model that wraps around the patient, so they have more touchpoints and opportunities for better health outcomes.
If the majority of our population is also our most vulnerable population, then keeping them safe for the sake of our communities is imperative. Virtual home healthcare has kept people healthy, remotely, during the pandemic, and it has shown improved access to comprehensive services that patients might not receive otherwise. For this reason, we believe that investing in virtual home healthcare programs is necessary for the future of our communities.
2. Corporate investments in comprehensive wellness programs for a stronger workforce:
The “work-from-home trend” has expanded well beyond tech companies like Google and Twitter, with 74 percent of organizations implementing remote-only work environments5. Working from home means there is a limited divide between professional and personal life and in many cases, people are juggling the complexities of childcare, healthcare, and everything in between. In this digital environment, employees are facing new challenges like longer hours, unlimited screen time, burnout, and isolation. So, how can employers reduce inevitable health-related costs like personal or sick leave, while sustaining both a healthy digital workforce and a strong business?
Employers should consider investing in comprehensive virtual wellness programs to cultivate a healthy remote workforce. Healthcare enterprises like Soul Being, an OnCall customer, offer comprehensive healthcare services for every facet of an employees life, from mental health, diet and exercise, to rehabilitation. Their complete healthcare programs offer significant benefits to employees: lifetime care rather than one-off, single-touchpoints, leading to stronger employee loyalty and trust6. Highly engaged and supported employees means a reduction in absenteeism, improved efficiency, and overall happier employees7. By supporting the transition to value-based employee healthcare programs, businesses can look forward to a stronger economic recovery after the pandemic, with a productive workforce supporting their growth.
3. Collaboration and interoperability means healthier patients and healthcare organizations:
In early 2020, cities and communities shut down to “flatten the curve”, and in Ontario, this socially-distanced approach resulted in less infections and fewer deaths. As we continue to experience this shutdown, however; our healthcare systems and networks fail to collaborate in the same way.
Healthcare networks are naturally made up of multiple systems, vendors, and platforms, which can be complicated and lack flexibility. Providers can’t access important patient data and send prescription and chart information. Patient stories have to be shared numerous times, too. Providers and patients alike recognize that these consequences are unacceptable.
As the pandemic continues, we believe that healthcare systems will work to restructure towards greater interoperability and efficiency, for the sake of their patients and organizations. With the ongoing development of APIs, such as OnCall’s scheduling API, integration is possible. OnCall’s API connects provider calendars across healthcare systems, so organizations can bring aggregated data to all stakeholders, automate multiple workflows, and maximize connectivity8.
Furthermore, giving providers access to their patients real-time aggregated data means they can prescribe real-time lifestyle changes, monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, and encourage patients to take control of their health long-term. This is especially important during unpredictable times, when a patient’s health–like older patients as we mentioned previously–can rapidly change day-to-day. The pandemic has revealed that we can work together for the greater good, but healthcare providers, systems, and enterprises will need to change, too, for the health of people and our communities.
So, how do we make an impact?
It’s clear that virtual healthcare programs can be beneficial for patients and their providers. However, socioeconomic and geographical disparities, a lack of virtual care education, and an unclear care fee structure means that we’ll continue to endure the effects of our disparate systems.
We believe that building a strong foundation is the key to overcoming our current challenges. Firstly, to challenge our socioeconomic differences so everyone can access virtual care services equally, our governments and healthcare systems need to invest in stronger IT infrastructure. This also means lowering telecommunications and device costs, so people can easily purchase and use devices to access care.
We also need to develop a standardized method of educating healthcare enterprises and providers using virtual care. This means a strong emphasis on rules and regulations for security, technology standards, and “webside manner”, to help ensure patients are receiving safe and quality care throughout their healthcare journeys. Finally, to transition to a value-based virtual healthcare model–instead of a volume-based model–leaders and governments need to build a regulated fee structure framework so virtual care appointments are considered equal to in-person care, and so systems can become interconnected and interoperable.
Virtual care will be the new and expected standard for healthcare in 2021 and beyond, with effects felt far into the future. We understand that the changes we’ve outlined above will take time to implement and adopt, but; we know that with virtual care leading the way, better healthcare is possible.