Insights

Digital Health in the Age of Coronavirus: How to Leverage Tech to Combat COVID-19

Oliver Lignell, Vice President, Virtual Health, AVIA

After spreading globally at a rapid pace, coronavirus disease has finally reached the U.S., with confirmed cases now at a pandemic level. The disease caused by coronavirus, COVID-19, is creating health, political, and financial challenges that impact populations, economies, and institutions across our country and globally. While providers have always trained to prepare for public health crises, they have a new tool to help them combat COVID-19: digital.

How can digital capabilities help providers manage COVID-19, both clinically and operationally? Could the disease impact the role digital plays in care delivery going forward?

Health systems are leveraging digital to more safely and effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis
Health systems across the AVIA Member Network and beyond are proactively leveraging digital assets to help triage, navigate and treat cases in a way that reduces the need for in-person visits, reducing the risk of spreading the virus at clinics or hospitals. Key to employing digital effectively is understanding what’s in place today that can be easily applied to the crisis, and what tools have been piloted or used in a limited fashion that can be quickly scaled. The tools and the impact they can have will help both shape immediate responses to the health crisis and influence longer-term improvements to our care model.

Mobile health apps, virtual assistants, and virtual visits offer key benefits in safety and access
For consumers, digital tools accessed from mobile devices and computers will be the key conduit for health education, communication, and even care delivery. Health systems’ investments in call centers, nurse triage, patient portals, and EMR messaging capabilities are the first line of communication and support, and investments in consumer-directed care are extending and supercharging these capabilities.

For example, virtual assistants and chatbots used for self-service virtual triage to explore symptoms can determine care needs and identify the appropriate site of care, reducing consumer worries and potentially inappropriate use of EDs and urgent care. Many virtual visit and triage vendors have announced the addition of COVID-19 protocols, and others are following suit.

Virtual visits offer another critical digital tool for providers. Completing a visit with a patient from the safety and comfort of their home provides care without exposing them to crowded and potentially infectious clinical locations and, just as importantly, reduces wait times and crowds at in-person care sites. For high-risk patients, the elderly and/or respiratory impaired, such access is critical. Many video visit solution companies are actively supporting their clients and direct-to-consumer offerings to address increased volumes and COVID-19 concerns.

Asynchronous virtual visits (store and forward, text/chat) provide similar benefits at an even lower cost. The ability of consumers to initiate a visit on-demand or schedule appointments when convenient ensures their concerns are addressed when desired. Additionally, the resulting decrease in wait times and more efficient patient flow further reduces the potential for virus spread and provider stress.

Benefits from these same digital tools also accrue to clinicians. Doctors and advanced practice providers can reduce their own exposure through virtual visits and, if they themselves are quarantined, can continue to work and care for others virtually from their homes.

Digital solutions are being employed to improve operations
Operationally, a host of digital tools and capabilities are assisting health systems reduce disease transmission and improve responsiveness. Tools such as automated supply chain purchase and fulfillment, the ability for staff to work remotely, advanced solutions for the virtual coordination of in-patient flow, bed availability, and transfer management between facilities, consults from specialists, and tracking/cleaning of respiratory care devices are of particular importance to reduce risk and ensure efficient use of resources. Additional operational tools include remote monitoring and digital treatment, both of which enable virtual care and can reduce the need for elderly and chronic populations to seek in-person care, visit the ER, or be readmitted.

The COVID-19 crisis is likely to create disruptive, long-lasting change to care delivery
Many of these digital tools may have only been piloted and not yet scaled within a health system. The urgency of the COVID-19 outbreak means that protocols for selected sites of care, both virtual and physical, need to be developed and enabled for specific needs, along with the education of providers, consumers, and patients.

In this evolving crisis, virtual health and other digital tools can reduce the risk of transmission and enable the delivery of high-quality care. Health systems are using existing tools and quickly implementing capabilities that might have otherwise been slower to scale in the face of traditional barriers, such as stakeholder buy-in, consumer education, process development, and funding. The crisis has significantly lowered these barriers, and the results are likely to be long-lasting.

Will digital patient and virtual care become the first and preferred method of consumer and patient interaction with health systems and providers? Innovators and futurists have seen this on the horizon of care while disruptors work hard to gain a foothold against traditional incumbents. The demands of COVID-19 are likely to accelerate this trend and impact our models of care for years to come.

For more information on leveraging digital to combat COVID-19, explore our COVID-19 Digital Resource Hub on AVIA Connect or contact us at contact@avia.health.