By Tye Cook, Former Head of Strategy and Innovation, Tegria

The COVID-19 pandemic is a persistent crisis despite the vaccine rollout, challenging individuals and organizations in healthcare across the country. The pandemic will end eventually, however – and when it does, we’ll face a fork in the road. We can either revert to the old way of approaching healthcare, or we can learn from how healthcare organizations quickly adapted and built a new status quo optimized for direct patient care.

The world of healthcare has changed – to retain and better serve their patients, health systems will need to continue maximizing technology to make the healthcare experience seamless, secure, and affordable.

In the early days of the pandemic, the industry pivoted to serve patients and clinicians remotely and, in many cases, began running their administrative processes offsite. This led to significant market investment and growth in the space that allowed health systems – out of necessity – to bring healthcare to patients instead of asking patients to come to them.

Patients and providers don’t want to go backwards now. Recent data from McKinsey shows that around 40 percent of consumers said they will use telehealth going forward – more than tripling the number that reported they’d use telehealth before the pandemic. Additionally, they’re interested in self-service options enabled by technology and lower-cost, virtual-first health plans. Similarly, more than half of physicians view telehealth more favorably than they did before the pandemic, and 57 percent want to continue offering it to patients.

Amid the pandemic, forward-thinking healthcare systems created partnerships with companies both inside and outside healthcare to bring new capabilities into their ecosystem. For example, Providence partnered with Microsoft on an updated chatbot to help patients self-assess their COVID-19 risks before coming to a care setting for evaluation. This type of collaboration has potential to create more innovations and provide consumers greater access to care, particularly for hard-to-reach populations, communities of color, and those in rural America.

But by and large, health systems currently lack the tools and resources necessary to prevent a backslide to outmoded ways of providing care. Specifically, they need the capability to segment patient demand to the most appropriate type of visit, whether in-person or virtual.

To remain viable and relevant, investing in new capabilities with the right technologically savvy partners is the best way to ensure innovations made during the pandemic aren’t lost. Health systems will need to continue choreographing capabilities that enable digital care to be delivered conveniently and appropriately to patients.

98point6, for example, is a technology that can triage patient demand in a way that should be compelling to healthcare systems looking to stay on the cutting edge. A technology platform that enables primary care delivery almost exclusively via SMS and text, 98point6 resolves more than 95% of patient visits without a referral. This is the type of next generation healthcare technology that will improve access while delivering high-quality care. The most successful healthcare systems will learn how to partner with these technologies rather than view them as competitors to their existing business model.

Consumer preference has already demonstrated that technology-driven approaches can help build patient trust and, in turn, loyalty. If health systems can grow patients’ loyalty by putting them at the center of care, those patients will more consistently engage with their wellness and care – increasing access and affordability over the long term and leading to healthier lives for all.

Tye Cook is head of strategy and innovation at Tegria which helps healthcare organizations of all sizes accelerate technological, clinical, and operational advances that enable people to live their healthiest lives.

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