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Collision Point podcast episode 2 banner that includes a female physician sitting in her office smiling as she uses a laptop

The Doctor Will (Virtually) See You Now

Telehealth – once a trendy industry term with limited real-world evidence of success – has experienced widespread adoption in recent years, transforming the patient-provider relationship as we know it.

In the second episode of PointClickCare’s new podcast, our own Sean O’Regan, an NHA and Senior Account Executive at PointClickCare, is joined by Kevin Baxter, Vice President of Operations at Health Services Management, to discuss one of the biggest buzzwords in healthcare right now – telehealth. Together, they dive into the state of telehealth and discuss how virtual care solutions have evolved to meet the challenges of today’s care dynamics.

What prompted Health Services Management’s virtual care journey?

After finding that many of the residents in their skilled nursing and assisted living facilities were being transferred to hospitals and other acute settings for care after hours, the Health Services Management team decided to turn to virtual health to keep patient care in house.

“Virtual health is positively impacting our quality of care because it gives our staff after-hours support when these virtual physicians are championing our treatment in place. Our main goal is to keep our residents here because we know that more stability and less back and forth between the hospital improves the quality of life of our patients,” Baxter shared.

How does virtual care work?

Virtual care can start as soon as a patient is transferred to a skilled nursing facility (SNF). Within just 24 hours, the SNF can tap a virtual physician to review the patient’s medications and care summary via a simple button that’s embedded within the SNF’s existing electronic medical records (EMR). While the transfer from a hospital to a long-term care setting has been known to cause anxiety among residents and their families, utilizing a virtual care solution can allow the new care team to get up to speed on the resident’s journey faster, alleviating the burden on staff, residents, and their families.

What are the benefits of having a virtual care solution?

Having a virtual physician on standby to help a nurse navigate a patient’s change in condition overnight has proven to be immediately beneficial. Baxter explained that Health Services Management’s facilities utilize anywhere between 25-30 different physician consults per month, or at least one call per night. If a patient’s care needs to be escalated to an acute care setting, the virtual physician is able to notify the emergency room (ER) and discuss which interventions were already employed before the patient arrives at the hospital. This allows for better communication between the SNF and the ER, a smoother transition between care settings, and ultimately better care outcomes for residents.

Over the course of one year, one of Health Services Management’s pilot virtual health programs saw a marked decrease from a 28% return to acute to just 11% for all payers. The organization continues to see tremendous improvements across all their pilot programs due to telehealth. With residents receiving better care in house, outcomes have improved, and the staff feels better supported knowing they have reliable physicians on call to walk them through the steps needed to handle a patient’s change in condition.

Further, the acute and payer sectors have also benefitted from the reassurance that telehealth provides. “ACOs are data-driven, so they’re looking at an SNF’s star ratings, their QAMs, and their RTAs. If they see that we have a good team after hours, their confidence with working with us goes up,” Baxter explained.

How will telehealth evolve in the next 5-10 years?

While the benefits of seeing a physician face-to-face can’t be replaced and should be prioritized, we also know that physicians can’t be on call at post-acute care settings 24/7. Typically, they’re only able to visit one of these care settings a few times a week to make rounds on a select few patients.

Having a telehealth solution that’s available at all hours would be even more beneficial to long-term care teams and their patients, but in order to make this a reality, there needs to be greater physician support. Baxter noted that there tends to be some concern among physicians that utilizing a telehealth service will negatively impact their billing. Baxter argues, however, that telehealth doesn’t harm physician billing. Rather, it helps by alerting physicians to follow-up care needs that they may not have otherwise caught due to their packed schedules.

“In order for virtual care to work, we knew we needed our administrators and staff to act as champions of this project.” Baxter explained that their staff needed to understand the many benefits that virtual care could provide as well as the ease with which they could employ this solution for it to be adopted. Ultimately, Baxter emphasized, it all comes down to how we can best support our staff. If we can better support our nurses and physicians and give them better quality of life, quality of care will follow. Telehealth is the way to get there.

Get more information about the Virtual Health solution that HSM implemented here.

To learn more, listen to the full podcast episode on Collision Point, PointClickCare’s podcast. With each new episode, Collision Point aims to connect real problems with real providers and real perspectives to drive true change.

January 9, 2023