Inpatient Healthcare Delivery: The Emergence Of Virtual-First Strategy

October 11, 2023
Article written by Dr. Corey Scurlock, MD, MBA

Inpatient Healthcare Delivery: the emergence of virtual first strategy

 

View on Forbes.com here

Dr. Corey Scurlock MD, MBA is the CEO & founder of Equum Medical.

Our world is evolving. Traditional banking has made way for online banking, and grocery shopping carts are more often on the screen versus in the store. Healthcare is evolving; however, integrating technology has come at a slower pace.

In contrast to our consumer worlds, evolution is distinct from traditional medical practice. Strategically, health systems, too, are harnessing technology, and at higher rates than in prior years. Reimagining how care can be delivered is removing defined physical care venues, instead defining the level of service needed. As a CEO and founder of a telehealth-enabled clinical services company, I am excited to explore and participate in realizing the profound implications of this strategy on hospitals and the healthcare ecosystem as a whole.

Indeed, "virtual-first" approaches have not only become relevant but essential, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hybrid ecosystems are evolving for payers and providers. This strategy has been adopted post-Covid to support the reshaping of inpatient care, from the Emergency Department (ED) to discharge planning, optimizing workforce utilization during times of higher acuity patient populations. It's a response to the growing need for healthcare delivery models that are not just reactive but proactive and technology-empowered.

Unleashing The Potential Of A Virtual-First Approach

The virtual-first strategy signifies a fundamental shift in how hospitals approach patient care. This approach isn't about replacing human interaction but rather enhancing it through the seamless integration of virtual interventions. The strategy prioritizes virtual interactions, empowering patients with greater accessibility and efficiency in receiving top-notch care and enabling health systems to integrate continuous clinical services through bedside and telehealth-enabled care teams.

By incorporating telehealth solutions from the outset, hospitals are fostering patient engagement and achieving improved outcomes. This approach is particularly important in bridging geographical barriers, ensuring that patients, even in remote areas, can access specialized care without the need for physical travel.

Transforming The Emergency Department With Virtual Health

In the fast-paced world of emergency medicine, a virtual-first strategy has proven its mettle by enhancing the emergency department (ED) experience. Through telehealth, patients can undergo remote triage and initial assessments, allowing medical professionals to swiftly evaluate symptoms and determine appropriate care pathways. This approach expedites treatment processes while prioritizing critical cases for prompt attention, even if a specialty physician modality is not available 24/7 in person. This can not only optimize the use of resources but also significantly reduce wait times and ensure that patients with severe conditions receive timely attention while maintaining patient flow.

Redefining Intensive Care Through Continuous Remote Monitoring

With the innovation of Tele-ICU celebrating 25 years of practice this year, critical care telehealth has some of the most demonstrable outcomes presenting cost and quality data. Critical care demands constant vigilance, a task made more efficient by a virtual-first strategy. The intensive care unit (ICU) adopts continuous remote monitoring through telehealth technologies, enabling healthcare teams to closely observe patients' vital signs, intervene promptly when necessary and collaborate seamlessly with remote specialists. This real-time monitoring mitigates risks and optimizes resource allocation. It also improves patient safety and supplies healthcare providers with data-driven insights to make informed decisions.

Empowering Nursing With Virtual Health

Nursing, a cornerstone of inpatient care, is undergoing transformation through virtual health. The virtual nursing model encompasses remote monitoring of patients' conditions, medication management and ongoing communication. This approach benefits patients by ensuring personalized care and timely interventions, while nurses can effectively manage larger patient volumes. As the nation faces a nursing workforce shortage, tele-nursing has grown rapidly and broadly to represent a new model of bedside to web-side care delivery strategy. This model empowers nurses to extend their care beyond the physical confines of the hospital room, providing continuous support and enhancing patient outcomes.

Harmonizing Human-Tech Synergy

A proper virtual-first strategy prioritizes technology without eclipsing the importance of in-person care. Hospitals must skillfully harmonize virtual interactions with face-to-face interventions to cater to individual patient needs. And virtual-first is now part of the decision-making of bringing new service lines to health systems, namely in person or, in fact, beginning with virtual in mind. This synergy can deliver a comprehensive care experience, combining the convenience of virtual access with the personalized touch of hands-on medical attention. For instance, a patient can have a virtual consultation with a specialist and then seamlessly transition to in-person care for procedures or interventions that require physical presence.

Conclusion: Shaping The Future Of Inpatient Care

If you view telehealth as “a natural evolution of healthcare,” then the challenges facing institutions center on provider resistance, clinical workforce resourcing, and infrastructure maturity. For providers, telehealth can be disruptive, so comprehensive training programs need to complement the integration of technology such as virtual care. As many health systems are faced with workforce shortages, telehealth may be seen as a further draw on existing resources. Here, telehealth and virtual care teams’ organization can help define roles for the bedside and the “webside” and which shared tasks together optimize this new relationship. Hospital IT investment is growing, and beyond the EMR and interoperability, virtual care investments can be tied to hospital ROI, supporting use case purchases to start that then connect through a telehealth framework across the acute continuum. In the case telehealth is viewed as a radical shift in care delivery, then the larger challenge is organizational buy-in, which requires a strong executive sponsor and an appetite to drive a culture of change.

The journey toward a virtual-first strategy in inpatient care is revolutionizing hospitals' care delivery methods. Through my conversations with health system executives, I am increasingly convinced that this strategy can contribute to a transformational healthcare landscape that sets a new standard for patient-centered care enabled by cutting-edge technology.

The adoption of a virtual-first approach is not just about leveraging technology for technology's sake; it's about putting patients at the center of care, ensuring that their needs are met promptly and effectively. And it’s squarely too about getting scarce provider resources to patients anywhere. The integration of a virtual-first approach represents an opportunity to advance medicine while also representing a continued commitment to providing top-quality care that adapts to the changing needs and expectations of patients. It's an exciting journey, one that reinforces the idea that technology and compassion can seamlessly coexist, enriching the healthcare experience for all.

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