Virtual hospital services have proven their advantages throughout the recent pandemic. It is well worth exploring the benefits, as well as the challenges of making them more than temporary fixes. Securing capacity of care beyond the urgency created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and into the future requires implementing strategies that anticipate, rather than just react to, disruption. To that end, vastly improved cybersecurity practices for medical devices and healthcare systems are a key steppingstone toward broadly — and safely — integrating telehealth into primary care structures and creating an elaborate virtual hospital infrastructure.
Expanding the Capacity of Preventive, Primary, and Continuing Care
Lessons learned during the crisis urge healthcare providers to adapt telehealth forward if they are to retain and even upgrade sustainability and competitiveness on the market. There is certainly no shortage of appeal among the direct recipients of health care. In fact, recent surveys found that, since the onset of the current pandemic, 62% of beneficiaries surveyed found their telehealth experience to be as good as or better than traditional in-person medical appointments.
While it is unlikely that medicine will be fully virtual any time soon, a hybrid hospital model, whereby patients receive a mix of virtual and in-person care, is surely in the cards. Cloud-based solutions, data-driven decisions, and reliable medical device software make it possible for some healthcare segments to no longer be defined by the literal walls of a hospital.
Reduce Costs Across the Board
One of the immediate benefits of integrating strategies such as telemedicine is the expansion of providers’ capacity of care across most preventive, primary, and continuing care services. This is all the more valuable considering that the U.S. is facing a significant shortage of primary care clinicians. Last year, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimated a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by the year 2034, including both primary and specialty care.
The shortage is most acutely felt in rural and impoverished urban areas, where it drives patients to turn to far costlier urgent care for issues that would be resolved in a standard office visit. Along with lapses in access to healthy food and quality education, healthcare deserts contribute significantly to deepening the resource and economic divide across American society. Virtual hospital services will offer much needed relief across many untapped regions.
In addition to reducing costs supported by patients, virtual hospital integration can also result in lower costs to providers. “Hospital at home” programs launched by institutions including John Hopkins and Mercy Health have reportedly found that operational costs were 19% to 30% lower compared to traditional inpatient care, while at the same time patients experienced better clinical results and lower average length of stay.
Increase Well Being of Healthcare Professionals
High-quality care and delivery of excellent patient experiences very much depends on the professional resources and well-being of all staff involved in the process. In addition to countering the looming shortage of clinicians across the healthcare system, virtual hospitals can help alleviate some of the most pressing challenges faced daily by medical professionals. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, surveys showed that chronic work-related stress influenced staff behavior, resulting in higher frequency of outbursts that were detrimental both to staff relationship and patient care. For the health of our healthcare system itself, it is crucial to understand that disciplinary action is not a solution for such severe burnout, but significantly improving work conditions is. Proper integration of virtual hospital services into the structure of any healthcare provider can take pressure off both patients and staff, while at the same time improving the experience for both.
Challenges Ahead: Transforming Ad-Hoc Hybrid Schemes into Seamless Healthcare Experiences Across the Digital Divide
The scalability potential is evident. In 2020, the downloads of medical apps increased 30% in the U.S. and 65% worldwide. The relatively broad access to mobile technology has rightfully created expectations such as convenient integration of wellness and fitness gadgets with medical device software, which would enhance individuals’ understanding and autonomy regarding health evaluations. Furthermore, research published in the Lancet reported that the number of virtual patient consultations in the U.S. increased 10-fold quite quickly following the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
However, allocating financial and human resources toward massive institutional changes has traditionally been a very slow process, and creating a seamless hybrid model of virtual and in-person medical care requires a lot of both. Organizing workflows and integrating new technologies toward better staff satisfaction, as well as improved patient care, seems a big undertaking. Training hybrid hospital staff will include everything from technical courses for onboarding diverse new technology to communication techniques that allow medical professionals to seamlessly adapt to virtual consultations, which lacks most of the in-person non-verbal cues that they are most likely used to.
Furthermore, healthcare providers would need to invest more toward understanding the complexities of patients’ experiences across mediums, in order to fine-tune their delivery of high-quality health care services virtually. Accounting for patient design is not just a key element among the best practices for designing dedicated medical software but is also crucial in constructively overhauling a system as complex as healthcare.
All the challenges touched on above will have to be overcome concurrently with the development of sophisticated remote patient monitoring and diagnostic tools. Although not widely available, it is currently possible for remote patients to record some of their vitals and automatically transmit data to their clinicians. However, a convenient way to help a remote consultation with routine blood work remains out of reach.
Lastly, beyond healthcare organizational hurdles, perhaps the biggest obstacle is one that requires massive change outside the healthcare industry. The current digital divide still impacts a significant portion of the population, which does not have internet access and would not be able to afford the personal mobile technology or other remote monitoring tools that would be essential for any level of virtual healthcare to work.
Successful organizational strategies will have to include constructive collaboration of not only healthcare providers, but also insurance providers, as well as massive national infrastructure programs that ensure no one is left behind.
Software solutions to streamline your healthcare business
Digitalization future-proofs your healthcare business and sets it up for long-term success. SMEDIX can help you find the most fitting solutions for your stability and growth. Reach out to our team – we’re eager to create a better future for healthcare together.