The forecasts and predictions for what will define 2021 are rolling out. Be wary of forecasts, predictions, and trends from innovators and futurists who may not understand living life with a diagnosis or diagnoses as a patient. Be skeptical of forecasts, predictions, and trends from people and entities who do not understand the work that patients and their carepartners need to do to get the care they need. For a successful 2021 that authentically meets patients and their carepartners where they are, create strategies rooted in these top 10 real-world, essential priorities.
1. Virtual Care: Patients and carepartners will expect virtual care in 2021 and beyond as part of their care experience. Virtual care is not to be mistaken as a replacement for in-person care but rather an additional option for a particular type of care. Stop using the words “no-shows” and look through the lens of “life happens” when trying to understand why people cannot make their appointments. Prioritize understanding the tremendous impacts of social determinants of health (SDoH) on people’s ability to be successful and engaged in their patient responsibilities. Virtual care is critical to meeting patients where they are; patients are living their lives with their diagnosis or diagnoses. When a patient’s clinical life is not in sync with their routine, day to day life, we have failed that patient and person. The success of virtual care requires more than patient engagement and technology. Primary carepartners must be included. Carepartners need to be able to join virtual consultations from a separate location. Would your Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings go well if only two people could join? If patients and their carepartners can’t easily connect with the doctor and care team, they will find another doctor who will meet them where they are.
Patients and their carepartners also need to be educated about the digital medicine cabinet’s importance and role. We have moved away from the simple mercury thermometer, aspirin, Band-Aids, and cortisone cream. Today there is a plethora of digital health tools and technologies for patients and their carepartners to consider to enhance their care and for enhanced remote-patient monitoring, including digital thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, weight scales, pulse oximeters, activity, and sleep trackers.
2. Not a Visitor: COVID-19 “No Visitor Policies” at healthcare facilities and physicians’ offices have wreaked havoc in patients’ and carepartners’ lives, causing significant barriers in communication, coordination of care, trauma, and human suffering, especially at the end of life. Internal workflows need immediate adjustments to address siloed information and lack of communication that can negatively impact care coordination, patient safety, and the doctor-patient relationship. Distinctions must be made between visitors and primary carepartners who are an essential extension of the patient’s care team. Primary carepartners who wish to assume the risk of being at the bedside, exam room, or infusion clinic should be supported in their choice to do so with basic safety training for infection risk reduction and proper use of PPE. We must strive to preserve human dignity and human rights of all patients, especially those at the end of their life, and supporting those who want to be present next to their loved ones to be able to do so.
3. Patient Workflows: Patients and carepartners will have higher expectations of healthcare delivery organizations and providers concerning digital experiences that support patient workflows and life with a diagnosis. Patients and their carepartners must do significant work to ensure they can get the care they need. Administrative burdens, such as paper forms, poor medical records request and addendum request processes, tedious billing and insurance support workflows, complicated appointment scheduling, and prolonged wait times will cause individuals to look elsewhere for their care. Patients want to maximize the 24 hours in THEIR day; convenience that enables multi-tasking, digitized patient experiences, decreased reliance on hardcopy paperwork, fax machines, and scanners, as well automation of inefficient processes will be critical. Patients and their carepartners are on high-alert.
4. COVID-19 Recovery: COVID-19 survivors and long-haulers will need long-term care for potentially lasting post-COVID symptoms. These patients will require the support of clinical and behavioral health care teams rooted in empathy and validation for healing to follow suit. All care providers are encouraged to prioritize trauma-informed care education and training. This will be a cornerstone in caring for all that have been infected with COVID-19 as well as all impacted by the pandemic.
5. Trust and Transparency: All stakeholders in healthcare should prioritize building trust and stand by transparency, especially concerning data practices. Patients’ bill of rights should be reviewed and considered for refreshing to align with today’s digital world.
6. Science of Vaccines: We will need excessive efforts to push credible content in support of COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccine misinformation and disinformation are gravely concerning. Every practice should commit to new channels for information dissemination. Open a social media page and create a plan to reach patients and carepartners to make informed, educated decisions about their care, especially when it comes to vaccines.
7. The Digital Divide: The digital divide continues to grow as a concerning SDoH. All digital health, digital tech, and virtual care providers must collectively address policies and regulations to address digital literacy, digital access, and technology access across all patient populations. Narrowing the health inequities gap must be a priority in all virtual care models and must be reimbursed and invested in as such. Healthcare delivery organizations and practices should partner with local community advisory boards, libraries, community colleges, and worship houses to begin bridging the digital divide by creating private, safe spaces for telehealth, digital engagement, and digital advancement to happen.
8. Digital App Economy: COVID-19 forced the hand of many individuals to become digital natives not only to be engaged in their care but also to survive and live in a pandemic. The use of apps to order groceries and household staples online opened a world of possibilities for those venturing into the world of digital and apps for the first time. Consequently, the bar has been set even higher for healthcare. The use of APIs in healthcare will explode and transform the way patients and their carepartners interact with the ecosystem. The Cures Act and Information Blocking Rules will shift control of health information from providers and payers to consumers. Patients, carepartners, and consumers will be paying attention to which entities are data access champions and who is making the health care experience seamless.
9. Peer Health Support: Social media will be leveraged by patients and carepartners struggling with friction points. All care providers should commit to connecting patients and their carepartners to patient peer health support groups. Peer health support groups can be disease or diagnosis-specific, treatment-specific, or biomarker specific.
10. Life-Focused Care: Patient-centricity is disconnected from the realities of what patients need. We must stop bringing diagnoses to life and start focusing on improving and supporting the lives impacted by diagnoses. All patients want to live their best life, no matter what their condition, no matter with their circumstances, where they are. This is life-focused care. This is the future we all must collectively prioritize and make actionable.
If you found this article helpful, you may also want to read this guide, On Time and Ready to Go: Essential for Appointment Communication in the COVID World.