Optimizing virtual care for a post-COVID world

Misha Nazrollahzadeh
April 15, 2021

How are leaders in the field paving the way for more personalized virtual care delivery?

The advent of COVID-19 rapidly and unexpectedly fast-tracked the healthcare industry’s transition into virtual care—often with mixed results. What will we keep and what will change as we move out of the acute stages of this pandemic and into a “new normal”?

As more patients express a desire for accessible care through technology, the bar for virtual care is rising and providers are reassessing their digital front doors for long-term success. This closer look at existing systems provides an opportunity to reimagine the digital patient experience, particularly how to develop positive experiences for underserved communities.

Many digital-first healthcare organizations are already paving the way with solutions that provide a personalized experience grounded in whole-person care. Let’s take a closer look at a few of those best-in-class digital health experiences and how healthcare organizations can take those cues to maximize the potential of virtual care in the long run.

Embracing holistic, comprehensive care—digitally

Taking a comprehensive, more personalized approach to digital health by considering context—socioeconomic status, culture, gender identity, religion, etc.—is a necessary step on the journey to a best-in-class virtual care experience. A myriad of variables can contribute to health outcomes and influence how a patient interacts with our healthcare system.

As a whole, healthcare organizations are increasingly coming to terms with that reality, but as the pendulum of traditional care continues to swing in that direction, so should virtual care. Organizations like Tia are forerunners in this movement.

Born out of de-humanizing healthcare experiences and an opaque and disorienting journey through the healthcare system, Tia is transforming healthcare delivery by focusing on the nuances of “distinctly female health.” Personalized and holistic care is core to Tia’s ethos and offerings, including physical, mental, and emotional health.

The context preceding the need for comprehensive care options that specifically cater to women is paramount—women often face bias and report being misdiagnosed or dismissed in healthcare settings. One study found that women who went to the ED with severe stomach pain had to wait nearly 33 percent longer than men with similar symptoms. The numbers around implicit and explicit bias in healthcare are even more staggering for women of color and black women in particular.

These experiences are traumatic and affect the way patients navigate their healthcare journey. Simply put: A one-size-fits-all approach to care delivery, in-person or virtually, has its limitations, and it’s not in the service of patients, who each have unique needs. Optimizing virtual care platforms to acknowledge those differences and cater to those needs will be critical to healthcare organizations looking to maintain the momentum of their digital front doors beyond the pandemic.

Prioritizing accessibility, inclusivity, and simplicity

Healthcare has a reputation for being difficult to access and navigate, especially for traditionally underserved populations. Digital health is supposed to change that, but providers have to be careful not to exchange already negative physical interactions with negative virtual ones. Virtual care can put patients in control of their own health by increasing accessibility and empowering individuals to take control of their care. But when health organizations fail to embed cultural considerations into the digital experience, the intention can miss the mark.

For FOLX Health, inclusivity and accessibility are central to the mission of offering healthcare services for queer and transgender patients: a community that often has challenging experiences with traditional healthcare services. A 2017 survey conducted by the Center for American Progress found that LGBTQIA+ communities still experience discrimination in healthcare settings. The survey also found that discrimination often discourages patients from seeking care, and when refused care, they often have trouble finding alternative services.

The stigma and roadblocks queer and trans patients face in healthcare are endemic, but with FOLX, members are in the driver’s seat and empowered with digital-first tools to make decisions about their own health. FOLX members get access to a menu of care options and tools, including:

  • Virtual visits with clinicians who have years of experience working with the queer and trans community or who themselves are part of the community.
  • Discreet and direct delivery of medications and supplies.
  • And notably, a comprehensive library of information on queer and trans health.

FOLX isn’t a cookie-cutter digital healthcare service provider—they know that their patients have unique needs and unique goals. Providers serving patients from any community can mirror FOLX’s empowering approach to digital health. Features like an inclusive knowledge base with information to help guide patients from different communities on their care journey and on-demand access to clinicians with specific cultural competencies can make digital health a highly personalized experience for everyone.

A digital-first future

COVID-19 may have jump-started the move to virtual care, but the demand is likely to keep growing even after the pandemic wanes. To succeed in a post-COVID world, healthcare organizations will need to shift their mindsets and make virtual care a central part of their care delivery program, not an afterthought or a separate initiative. That means recognizing that factors like differences in age, gender identity, culture, race/ethnicity, and more influence digital patient experiences just as they do in-person ones. Carefully embedding these nuances into digital front doors will make for a highly personalized digital experience and ensure that these innovations benefit all communities.

But the optimization of virtual care doesn’t stop at the front door. What happens when a patient tries to use a “find a doctor” search tool on a digital health platform and finds that the provider they select has outdated contact information? Or what happens when a virtual care navigator tries to make a referral for a patient but then finds that the provider doesn’t actually accept their insurance? The underlying foundation that’s propping up digital front doors is equally essential—countless different data points power these tools for a better patient experience.

How can healthcare organizations ensure a solid infrastructure to support their digital front doors? In our recent ebook, Simplifying Healthcare Navigation, we look at provider data’s pitfalls and how to build a better future of simplified healthcare navigation.

Download the ebook to learn more about how reliable provider data builds road signs for your patients’ journeys.

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