The pandemic has completely upended the practice of medicine in ways we’ve never witnessed before.  Telehealth – which as we know has exploded in popularity – has influenced this, but its implications are cascading way beyond. While remote and virtual care delivery have been the focus of this new world, the true and deeper transformative effect of the pandemic has been to vanquish fundamental, imprisoning, and long-established silos.  These have separated the patient experience before the visit, and what comes after. 

To widen the aperture, this is analogous to the profound and permanent changes that are re-shaping the relationship between the home and the office in corporate America. This blurring of boundaries has crept into the pandemic-wrought revolution.  I have seen these precursors, because meaningful creative innovation and disruptive thinking have been part of the digital healthcare revolution that I have been privileged to be part of.  My peers and I have recognized that patient access is not incidental to successful and effective healthcare, but core to its realization.

But the rapid forcing factor of the pandemic has been a catalyst for the long-overdue adoption of transformative change, as it has been in many facets of society. Consider that before the virus, our pre-visit experiences were executed in an isolated bubble.  What happened prior to physically entering a physician’s office was disconnected from what happened after.   

Scheduling, in other words, was typically a clumsy, mechanical function that was nearly entirely based on the clock.  It was 100% appointment centric.  You called, you called again, and finally-  if you were lucky you got someone on the phone – you were then forced to schedule with someone who had little or no insight into your medical history. What’s more, if the patient needs to schedule a visit with a new physician – based on the need for a specialist or second opinion – actionable provider listings that allow direct scheduling are typically unavailable online. That’s like Amazon without a buy button!

While some enlightened practices had made the move to online platforms, for the most part scheduling was one-dimensional, not three-dimensional. It required – and was capable of –  little or no coordination between the physician’s staff and the patient.  Often, in fact, there was massive duplication, as the patient had to spend frustrating time in the office, painfully repeating the same information that had been theoretically transmitted on the phone. 

We can no longer conduct business as usual in the future.  Or in the present. We are rapidly moving from an era of patient/physician fragmentation to one of experiential continuity, with new access dynamics and contact-less relationships defining tomorrow.

The Future of Telehealth Starts Before the Virtual Visit

You see, in the world of COVID, online scheduling is now part of a complex, interdependent series of new behaviors designed to protect both patients, physicians and their staffs.  It deconstructs silos that separated scheduling from the fullness of patients’ needs, and creates a new virtual office continuum, resulting in a far more patient- and physician-friendly ecosystem than has ever existed before. This new frictionless process is made possible by today’s new generation of digital scheduling, transformative platforms that are flexible to contain smart workflows. They include patient screening as part of scheduling, the full collection of patients’ needs and precise matching with appropriate care. 

Those prescient physicians and practices that moved to online platforms before the pandemic were able to deal with the stress of patient demands, of the move to telemedicine, of contact-less experiences , with a fluidity unmatched by  those who were locked in their old disconnected model. Finally, even the most slow-to-adopt practices have seen the light. I hear it every day; this is the moment for the rapid embrace of hybrid workflows.

Now that telemedicine and remote visits – integrated with the irreplaceable value of  in-person visits – are here to stay, medicine cannot delay the embrace of online access as the  new digital handshake between them, within smart technology supporting the determination of when remote visits are sufficient given the patient’s condition.  

Whether for physical or remote visits -all physicians will require what I like to call a virtual front desk. An online check-in that includes consent forms, insurance eligibility tests, and payments – one fluid and seamless experience for the patient. That is essential for effective management of a practice’s financial, legal and management need.

I also need to point out that online scheduling also protects the revenue model of physicians, which is under siege from a pandemic that is reducing visits and triggering an unprecedented frequency of cancellation.

The future will be one where the patient feels recognized, cared for, and prepared for by virtue of patient access platforms that can deal with complex cases and immediate changes through personalized and relevant systems and messaging. When a patient steps into the office it should be the continuance of an ongoing experience, not a frustrating new beginning. The resources for that are here now and will only elevate to create rewarding and satisfying new future for physicians and their patients.

About Dikla Ranen

Dikla Ranen is the co-founder and COO of Odoro – a leader in digital patient access solutions for health systems. Over the last 20 years, Dikla has held senior sales, business development and customer success roles in both the digital health and hi-tech sector. Working at the forefront of the changing digital patient access landscape for the past 10 years, she understands first-hand the challenges and issues facing health systems. To learn more about sector best-practices and how latest digital innovation strategies are being used to improve the patient experience, please message with Dikla on Linkedin.