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How lessons learned from telehealth’s growth can prepare us for the next emergency

March 22, 2023

Telehealth has existed for decades, but prior to March 2020, only a fraction of doctors used it on a regular basis. Then, almost overnight, as the pandemic took hold, adoption soared.  

We didn’t think we needed telehealth … until we actually needed it.  

While the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act eased security requirements — so doctors could use their own digital devices to connect with patients — it was the health systems and ambulatory practices that already had the nuts and bolts of a telehealth system in place that made the wider rollout of telehealth possible. 

Physicians who already offered virtual care services were at a distinct advantage in 2020 and 2021. Others were scrambling to figure it out. Many businesses that couldn’t adapt didn’t survive. 

Here are a few lessons learned from telehealth adoption that can help prepare healthcare companies and stakeholders for the next emergency.

  1. Preparation and planning can’t be underestimated.

Before the next global emergency hits, employers, healthcare providers and health plans have an opportunity to learn from the last one. It will cost more, in resources, to deploy “stop gap” measures than to adopt a real, long-term solution. For example: So many people missed preventive care visits in 2020 that they required more intensive care later on. Another example: Physicians that had the foresight to adopt telehealth apps, were able to “see” patients during lockdowns, but many missed out because they weren’t already using a full-bodied telehealth solution with important features that enable healthcare organizations to coordinate care. 

Although pressing day-to-day problems can get in the way of forward-thinking initiatives, the long-term payout from advanced preparation can’t be underestimated. . Not sure where to start? Home-based healthcare solutions are here to stay. Forward thinking organizations and stakeholders need to seize the moment and find more ways to engage individuals in their healthcare in their homes – so if they’re unable to see a physician, they can still stay healthy and safe.    

  1. Investing in preventive care tools is always a good idea.

The longer individuals wait for essential healthcare, the worse off they’ll be outcomes-wise, but also costs-wise: It costs thousands of dollars to treat individuals with more advanced stages of most every medical condition. Consider that in the first half of 2020, more than one in four patients missed their preventive care appointments, largely because they didn’t want to risk exposure and sickness. 

There are alarming examples of how this lack of preventive screenings — and a lack of preventive-screening tools — ultimately affects outcomes. 

The American Association for Cancer Research noted that between March and December 2020, at the height of the pandemic, prior to the administration of the first round of vaccines, the U.S. saw an 11 percent increase in patients diagnosed with inoperable or metastatic cancer compared with the same period in 2019. During this time period, many individuals postponed preventive care.

We could take a lesson from organizations that have addressed the screening roadblock by investing in preventive care tools that made screenings easier to engage in: Kaiser Permanente Northern California, for example, pioneered the use of organized campaigns to mail FIT (fecal immunochemical test) kits to enrollees who are eligible for screening but have not had a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, another type of visual examination. This screening looks for hidden blood in stool

A paper published last year noted that mailing the FIT kits helped the organization increase its screening coverage from 40% to 82% in about 1 million eligible adults. The authors noted that their results were consistent with randomized trials showing that automated FIT mailings boosted screening by 28% over opportunistic screening alone.

  1. Home-based care is here to stay.

Convenience is clearly every American’s preference, which is why more of us are working at home in 2023 than in any other developed country. At-home health screening tools like Reperio’s patented, biometric screening kit arm consumers with what they need to measure cholesterol, blood-glucose, weight and other personal health levels. An accompanying mobile health app can help individuals make sense of their results, too.  

There are other benefits to doing more in the home: The healthcare landscape is expected to change in the next few years with labor shortages and other factors. Many industry experts are predicting a looming primary care collapse that will leave many Americans without regular care and preventive screenings. Organizations that get behind at-home technologies and make it easier for individuals to engage with home-based tools – and make it easier for dwindling primary care physicians to interact with their patients efficiently – will be better positioned when the time comes that accessing in-person healthcare services becomes less convenient. 

It’s time to get serious about preventive care in the home, and empowering our colleagues, employees, and patients. Let’s make sure individuals are comfortable with self-screening, home monitoring, and self-care. This way, when the next healthcare emergency rolls around, and accessing healthcare providers becomes challenging, they won’t be left to fend for themselves, without the routine care they need to become healthy.

Employee wellness starts here.

Revolutionize your health screening options. Learn more today.

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