The coronavirus outbreak has turned healthcare on its head. Patients need their providers right now, both for their healthcare concerns and to assuage the fears that naturally crop up during a pandemic. But organizations are spread thin right now, between pushes for social distancing and the increased patient demand. Remote patient monitoring can help.
“Now, perhaps more than ever, our patients and their families need the right empathetic information at the right time to help mitigate any confusion, anxiety and risk they may be having,” said Genevieve Melton-Meaux, MD, PhD, a professor in the department of surgery at the Minnesota-based M Health Fairview. “As healthcare providers, we need to communicate in real time to reduce concerns and coordinate care effectively and efficiently during this pandemic.”
But paradoxically, just when patients need their providers the most, healthcare organizations are facing their biggest hurdles in patient outreach. The coronavirus pandemic has introduced a laundry list of unexpecteds, with the inability to make meaningful connections with patients in need leading the way.
Notably, healthcare organizations are facing an onslaught of patient requests, whether they have tested positive for COVID-19 or not.
“As many hospitals and healthcare systems are being overburdened with the increasing number of patients, in some cases care teams are being spread thin and unable to provide optimal levels of engagement to patients,” Melton-Meaux told PatientEngagementHIT via email.
That very scene has been unfolding at M Health Fairview, she added.
“We have certainly seen a surge of patient requests and questions — whether they be sent directly to our providers, in-person in our facilities or directed to our call center,” Melton-Meaux reported.
Compounding the issue is the social distancing protocol that keeps many patients out of the healthcare facility. In March, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) urged healthcare facilities to hit pause on their non-urgent or elective treatments and procedures. The move was intended to save space, supplies, and workforce numbers to account for a surge in COVID-19 cases healthcare expected and came to see.
That CMS edict has since been reversed, as in-hospital coronavirus cases begin to taper off and the industry turns some of its attention back to patients with non-COVID needs.
But still, patients may understandably be fearful of accessing care inside healthcare facility.
And for what it’s worth, many organizations feel the same. While healthcare facilities are preparing to reopen their doors to non-urgent cases, they are still touting the potential for health technology to maintain connections with patients and keep them out of the clinic or hospital unless absolutely necessary.
At M Health Fairview, patient care leaders implemented new patient engagement and remote patient monitoring tools to help manage case flow. GetWell Loop helped Melton-Meaux and her team to establish remote connections with their patients, keep track of patient symptoms, and maintain communications with them even during the height of the pandemic response.
“In order to ensure patient safety and help reduce transmission rates, we’ve turned to new technology to help provide more real-time information and resources to our patients, while also getting patients more involved in their care,” Melton-Meaux stated. “Now, we are able to remotely monitor and communicate with patients at home, in quarantine, to help reduce transmission rates and allow them to be in the setting where they feel most comfortable.”
The technology allows the M Health Fairview team to send key patient education materials out to their panel, including public health messages from both the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Additionally, the platform facilitates secure texting, calling, and virtual visits for patients and providers.
The platform has played a big role in mitigating some of their COVID-19 cases, especially for patients with few or no comorbidities who were expected to recover with few complications.
The same can be true for individuals suspecting coronavirus infection.
“We are providing virtual monitoring support for those who may have come in contact with the virus and showing mild symptoms, which has helped us minimize the number of patients in our hospitals,” Melton-Meaux said.
And that approach has been effective.
“The use of technology has helped us to more accurately triage patients and avoid overburdening our hospital administration team, while still providing real-time support and answers for concerned patients,” Melton-Meaux shared. “It has also helped to minimize staff exposure and to free up staff to prioritize other clinical needs during this crisis.”
Ninety-eight percent of M Health Fairview’s patients have reported that health technology has helped them avoid a trip to the hospital or calling their doctor, two metrics that are key for a currently overburdened health industry.
Meanwhile, patients are reporting satisfaction with their care. Although they are not visiting the provider in person, patients are seeing the value in this new, tech-enabled treatment they are receiving.
The organization is seeing a 62 percent activation rate and a 94 percent utilization rate across the more than 4,000 patients it has enrolled to date. Patient satisfaction with the platform lingers at around 91 percent, with those patients saying they’d be willing to recommend this type of technology to their friends.
“We’ve actually gotten direct feedback from our patients, saying they’re impressed with how the solutions have made them feel comfortable and supported in this fight against the pandemic,” Melton-Meaux said.
The technology has helped the organization assuage the fears their patients might experience during this uncertain time, she explained, because it helps connect patients to providers with actionable information. A patient experiencing anxiety about her symptoms can connect with her doctor, who can offer empathy and more information about the course of her illness.
“While many are certainly still fearful, as expected in any pandemic, we have been able to alleviate certain concerns for our patients and their families by staying focused on the importance of providing personalized and patient-centered care, even with the heightened numbers of patients,” Melton-Meaux pointed out.
“Knowing that many are fearful of the virus and it’s potential, we determined early on that it’s important for us to be able to share accurate clinical information with our patients and their families, to avoid widespread fear and panic,” she concluded. “With the help of this technology, we can now relay approved resources that focus on the whole person as well as clinical needs.”