Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the stay-at-home advisories that followed, we have all been waiting for a return to “normal.” That might be defined by meeting friends at a favorite restaurant, going to a concert — or even simply commuting to work.
But as we wait for those semblances of our familiar routines to return, we have adopted alternative ways to recreate those experiences – particularly through modern technology. Instead of that restaurant dinner, we are taking online cooking classes. That concert was replaced by a streamed performance on YouTube, and we swapped the work commute for video conferences from home.
While some aspects of our lives prior to the pandemic will return in a familiar fashion, many of the technology adoptions from recent months are here to stay. Particularly in healthcare, where the industry has leaned heavily on technology solutions that make up the “virtual practice journey,” allowing providers to see patients safely while minimizing potential exposure to the virus. Modernizing Medicine® is a leader in healthcare technology and many of its solutions, such as telehealth and patient engagement capabilities, have done much more than keep physician practices afloat during the pandemic. They have improved efficiencies and made the patient experience easier and more enjoyable.
How healthcare’s “new normal” improved the patient experience
The pandemic created unprecedented obstacles for healthcare providers, but existing technologies provided many of the resources needed to overcome those obstacles. For instance, physician practices needed to limit the number of patients in the clinic at a time to promote social distancing. That meant the traditional routine of walking up to a check-in desk and sitting in a waiting room with other patients would not suffice.
Instead, clinics across specialties that use Modernizing Medicine’s software suite have implemented a low-touch system that allows patients to schedule an appointment and update any changes to patient history online, and then check-in for their appointment from their car. They receive a notification when the doctor is ready, and they don’t spend a moment sitting in the waiting room. Many clinics will likely continue to utilize this remote check-in procedure regardless of pandemic protocols because it helps to achieve what every patient wants – spending less time in the doctor’s office.
Telehealth emerged early in the pandemic as the easiest way to provide healthcare while keeping patients out of the doctor’s office. At Modernizing Medicine, we launched a new telemedicine solution that integrates with our existing electronic health record (EHR) platform to maintain routine checkups, consultations and screenings across our clinics. I expect patients from a range of demographics will continue to use telehealth moving forward, even when pandemic-related restrictions are lifted. Elderly patients with less mobility enjoy having the option to have appointments from home, while younger patients appreciate the fast, convenient nature of telehealth for things like medication checks and routine care.
The way patients pay for medical visits has also shifted in recent years, as more financial responsibility and out-of-pocket costs are falling on patients. That change necessitated more convenient payment options, such as the ability to pay for copayments and balances online. Our new functionalities, including contactless payments, online patient portal payments and available payment plans, that have helped to enforce social distancing have also improved the experience for patients who are increasingly comfortable with e-commerce and expect a digital payment option.
The next wave of technology
In many ways, the pandemic forced technological adoption to happen faster and shortened the timeline for innovation. With the rise of telehealth, wearables represent one emerging technology that holds even greater potential than it did a year ago. Healthcare providers are looking for new ways to connect with their patients and track their health without seeing them in person, and many patients already wear a Fitbit or Apple Watch. In an orthopedic clinic, for example, a physician could track the physical activity of a patient who just had a knee procedure, ensuring they follow the correct rehabilitation regimen. In a sign of continued growth for wearable technology, Amazon recently launched its own fitness tracker to compete with Apple and Google.
Big data analytics and artificial intelligence are other cutting-edge technologies that are advancing quickly, and I expect these will significantly impact healthcare in multiple ways. From a provider standpoint, AI can dramatically reduce time spent on manual processes, such as identifying patients for a clinical trial of a new therapy. It can also help physician practices reach their patients more efficiently. For practices that utilize a mobile application, AI can identify which patients use the app and what they use it for, allowing the practice to optimize the app for its users.
Healthcare is not going back, it’s going forward
While we long for “the old way” in our everyday lives, healthcare is moving forward with technology adoptions that have reshaped the industry. Patients today have more options and more control of their healthcare than ever before. They are well-informed consumers who read online reviews of their physicians and shop around for competitive pricing.
In response, the healthcare industry will continue to implement and improve the technologies that enhance the patient experience – including telehealth, online scheduling and payment capabilities, and AI functionality. If the healthcare industry utilizes those technologies effectively, the “new normal” will be better than the old one.