The Rise of the Centralized Virtual Care Hub

During the pandemic, any health service that could go virtual, did. In the last 12 months, demand for virtual care has risen sharply, but shifting to a centralized virtual care hub is not easy pivot for many traditional health providers.

The COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked many digital initiatives and there is nowhere that this more evident than in health care. While the advantages of remote, virtual health care were well known before the pandemic, the focus tended to be on the telehealth provision for the elderly, those with mobility issues or those who simply lived far away from health services.

However, in the last year, driven by COVID-19, any health service that could go virtual, did go virtual. Digital initiatives that might normally have taken months to put in place were rolled out in a matter of weeks.

Improving Outcomes for Patients and Providers

One of the first lessons that became clear following this big shift toward virtual was that this model of care is not just for those who can’t physically get to appointments. Virtual care is easy and convenient for everyone, provided they have access to digital services, either through a smartphone or other device. Of course, virtual care is not for every type of care. For instance, surgery and any services reliant on equipment that sits within health care settings still require in-person treatment. However, for a significant proportion of health care interactions, virtual has proved itself not just fit for purpose but even preferable for many other reasons besides the necessity of social distancing. This is patient-centered care in action.

In the last 12 months, demand for virtual care has risen sharply, but shifting to a centralized virtual care hub is not easy pivot for many traditional health providers. What should providers consider to ensure the effectiveness of their virtual care?

What Is a Centralized Virtual Care Hub?

The first point of contact with the family physician, preventive care support, follow-up visits, remote post-hospital care and the remote management of chronic diseases can all be carried out from a virtual care hub.

What Does Virtual Care Look Like in Action?

Shifting to a virtual care model can be a big cognitive leap for patients and providers alike. How will they access the service or data? How can care possibly work online? These are common questions. The answers often lie in revealing the end-to-end process of a virtual visit. Show, don’t tell, as they say.

Here is the anatomy of a virtual visit:

  • Pre-visit: Long before the appointment takes place, several key preliminary components of the virtual care hub are already hard at work. Intelligent scheduling is the first point of contact for those seeking medical advice. These systems can effectively triage the situation and recommend the appropriate channel to resolve it, whether that is to book a direct call, schedule an appointment, advise about self-care, etc. In the pre-visit stage, virtual health care providers ensure that the patient and physician are both ready for the virtual visit when it happens: appointment reminders are sent out, lab or test results are ready and educational content is shared.
  • Virtual waiting room: Here, patients can expect an easy check-in process for their appointment, which might also involve health-related clinical videos, customized screening or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability–compliant two-way texting.
  • Virtual visit: Whether the appointment takes place by phone, conversational user interface or video, the physician will be armed with the information required to support decision-making, including remote body vitals from wearables and connected devices, the patient’s history, and, increasingly, artificial intelligence support around clinical judgements. Physicians can perform directed virtual exams during the visit, recommend next steps and automatically generate the necessary clinical documents.
  • Post-visit: With the virtual visit over, if the patient requires a follow-up appointment, a prescription or health maintenance planning, this will all be handled via the virtual care system. In addition, the billing and claims management is integrated and automated throughout.
  • Remote monitoring: This is not a “final step” in the process, rather it brings us back round to the beginning and completes the circle of care. Virtual care–enabled remote patient monitoring has led to a closer, more responsive and interactive model of care. For instance, patients could expect health coaching to keep their condition on track, as well a critical alert system that can predict — and hopefully prevent — deterioration in the patient’s condition.

The Digital Ecosystem Driving Virtual Care

Technology is modernizing how health care is accessed and delivered. A centralized virtual care system depends on the seamless interaction of many components. For example, hardware ranging from medical grade devices to consumer wearables must seamlessly integrate with firmware, platforms and software. Big Data analytics is another key component that adds intelligence into the system. The most viable environment for digitally engineering, testing and running a care hub is in the cloud, benefiting as it does from the very latest practices when it comes to security, performance, disaster recovery and compliance.

Why the Centralized Virtual Care Model Is Here to Stay

The shift to virtual care was born of necessity in the pandemic, but the reasons to continue to invest in this trend are clear. From a patient perspective, health enquiries and visits are dealt with quicker, often in a way that is actually more convenient. Urgent cases are triaged accordingly, as are cases that require an in-person visit. The benefits of a virtual, centralized care system are evident when it comes to patient outcomes, too. Tools such as remote monitoring and intelligent triage help to free up capacity where it is required most. Providers and payers also benefit from reduced friction in the system, greater efficiencies and reduced overheads. In short, everyone benefits: patients, providers and payers.

Sachin Kalra is vice president, customer success – healthcare at Infostretch, a digital engineering professional services company. He is responsible for strategy and oversight of the company’s health care practice.