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Virtual health care experience

Promoting adoption of virtual health care (systems)

As fears of COVID-19 spread in early 2020, virtual health care utilization increased at an unprecedented pace. But after initial lockdowns were lifted, consumers and clinicians reverted back to old habits, opting for in-office visits over virtual ones. Explore how health systems can sustain and improve the virtual health care experience through a human-centered design approach.

Purposeful design that fulfills the promise of virtual health care utilization

As fears of COVID-19 spread throughout the country in early 2020, health systems and consumers adopted virtual health at an unprecedented pace. Health systems rushed to implement virtual health platforms, partnering with new-to-health care videoconferencing platforms like Zoom or collaborating with more established synchronous virtual health platforms like AmericanWell and Teladoc. Meanwhile, consumers actively sought ways to interact with their clinicians without risking exposure to COVID-19, and health systems saw a 154% increase in virtual video visits during the last week of March 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

Changes in government reimbursement policies also fueled the adoption of virtual health, with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanding coverage to an additional 135 allowable virtual health services, more than doubling the number of services that beneficiaries could receive remotely. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, only 1.7 million Medicare beneficiaries had received synchronous virtual health services. By the last week of April 2020, 9 million had.

Designing for adoption: Experience-led virtual health

There were some myths of what telemedicine could do … and providers and patients were surprised by how effective the clinical visit could be [in a virtual setting]. We are hopeful that there is real opportunity for a telehealth component to health care that is sustainable and reliable.

– Kenric Maynor, MD, chair of Medicine Institute, Geisinger Health System (Deloitte Virtual Health Accelerated Roundtable participant)

However, beginning in late April 2020, as initial lockdowns were lifted and concerns about PPE shortages decreased, consumers and clinicians quickly and quietly began reverting to old habits. From its peak in April and May, virtual health utilization began to decline over the course of the summer. The virtual health care experience clearly left something to be desired.

From November 2020 to February 2021, as COVID-19 resurged, virtual health utilization once again increased. The lesson is clear: Health systems that want to drive a sustainable adoption of virtual health in the absence of a pandemic are going to need to create a more compelling virtual health care experience. These organizations will need to take a more deliberate approach to designing and integrating virtual health systems into their overall care delivery if they want patients and clinicians to use it.

By purposefully and effectively integrating virtual health utilization into their care delivery model, health systems can create a brand-differentiating offering and experience. Doing so will help them gain and maintain market share in an increasingly competitive environment—one less and less tethered to a physical or geographic location. Seen through this lens, can any health system afford not to focus on improving their patient and clinician virtual health care experience?

Applying a human-centered design approach to virtual health systems

Health systems seeking to increase virtual health adoption should employ a human-centered approach. This means first defining their virtual health offerings, then refining and tailoring programs based on a strong understanding of who their patients and/or clinicians are, what they need, and how they behave. Doing so will result in more durable and attractive virtual health solutions that meet patients’ and clinicians’ specific needs and drive increased loyalty.

Here, we’ve broken down an experience-led, human-centered design approach for virtual health programs into five steps:


Where should you begin creating your virtual health care experience?

Health systems that are considering a purposeful, experience-led approach to designing integrated virtual health services can take some smart first steps:

  • Define the initial design challenge.
  • Identify what patients and clinicians will be affected by any potential changes.
  • Assemble a diverse, multidisciplinary team to address the design challenge and to engage with critical stakeholders.
  • Acknowledge that an experience-led design process may differ from your organization’s typical design approach.
  • Begin the research process to uncover the attributes and traits that will dictate how patients and clinicians experience virtual health.

Health care organizations have a unique opportunity to evaluate, rethink, and redesign their virtual health capabilities and systems with the patient and clinician experience in mind. With the learnings from this past year to drive insights, organizations can now improve on their initial experience to create a sustainable model that matches clinical need to the patient and clinician experience. This will ultimately drive better outcomes, higher patient and clinician engagement, greater customer satisfaction, and brand and market reputation.

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