Our research team breaks down this week’s top healthcare news.
In an age of unprecedented change, staying current has never been more important. Our team at Chartis is curating news most relevant to the healthcare industry and tracking the topics that are trending on seven key issues: high reliability care, digital and advanced technology, financial sustainability, health disparities, the health ecosystem of the future, partnerships, and the provider enterprise. Each week, we break down what’s happening and why it matters.
Last week the United States averaged just over 1 million vaccines a day, down from over 3.3 million a day at peak in early April. The slowdown puts at risk President Biden’s goal of getting 70 percent of adults to at least one dose by July 4. As vaccination rates slow in the adult population, teens are suffering an increased burden. A study released last week showed a significant increase in young adults hospitalized with COVID in March and April. Nearly one-third of that group needed intensive care. This increase could have occurred for many reasons, including returning to school in person, variants that cause more severe cases, and reduction in social distancing and masking practices as the adult population’s vaccination rates increased.
While the push to vaccinate all those in the United States over the age of 12 continues, this week it was reported that the Biden administration plans to announce that the U.S. will also increase efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world by donating 500 million vaccines produced by Pfizer mostly through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access program (COVAX), 200 million of which will be donated this year with the remaining 300 million in the first half of next year. The U.S. had already promised more than $4 billion dollars to COVAX, but the current need in most locations is immediate access to vaccine supply.
The population that was ready and willing to get vaccinated has received their doses, and now many of those who remain unvaccinated are vaccine-hesitant. The question has been raised as to what the best approach is to get the remainder of the population vaccinated and how to motivate this group. Many companies and state governments have utilized incentives to convince those who are hesitant — including free doughnuts, $100 bonds, scholarships, free beverages, and even a $1 million dollar vaccine lottery in Ohio. In some cases, the incentives have been very successful. Certain counties in Ohio doubled their vaccination rates after the lottery was announced. For others, free goods or the chance for cash are not enough to overcome their barriers. Public health departments are taking another approach and reducing mass vaccination sites and using the resources from those sites to target communities, many of which have large Black and Hispanic populations, with low vaccination rates using mobile vaccination units. In Cook County, the mobile units have administered over 86,000 doses in the last few weeks.
While the United States’ commitment of vaccines to COVAX will provide lifesaving access to millions and is a significant start, it is only a fraction of what will be needed. Researchers at Duke University noted that it will take approximately 11 billion doses to vaccinate 70 percent of the global population. Larger commitments will be needed from the U.S. and other wealthy countries. The global death toll is officially nearly 4 million, though due to underreporting, the true total is likely over 7 million and rising by over 10,000 deaths per day. It is imperative to vaccinate the world to prevent further loss of life and also mutations that may make vaccines less effective. Vaccination remains the most effective way through this pandemic, and we must continue to encourage and incentivize vaccination in eligible populations as well as providing vaccines for the global community that does not yet have access.
The negative perception of waiting rooms in healthcare is so widespread and ingrained in our country that to complain about them borders on a cliché. Healthcare delivery is a complex operation, and ensuring that all patient appointments start on time is impossible — thus, the creation of waiting rooms to give patients a place to sit while they wait for the healthcare provider. However, over time, the required activities in waiting rooms have increased, as has the time patients spend in them, the degree of crowdedness, and the level of impatience. Typically, a patient arriving for an appointment has to fill out paperwork (often still on actual paper), wait for a receptionist or administrative staff to enter much of the information into a computer, confirm insurance coverage with one of the administrative staff, potentially wait for insurance authorization if it is required but not completed, and often pay an out-of-pocket fee either before or after the appointment.
Before COVID-19 arrived, some providers in the healthcare industry were experimenting with new configurations for waiting rooms and new processes to alleviate the burden of waiting rooms and streamline the system of attending a doctor’s appointment. An example is confirming appointments with patients the day prior to reduce last-minute cancellations and obtaining insurance information and preauthorization by phone with the patient and payor prior to the visit day. These efforts to reimagine waiting rooms accelerated with COVID-19. As the pandemic began to subside in some areas and many physician offices ramped up in-person visits, patients had safety concerns, not wanting to get infected by sitting in a closed room with other potentially sick people. Simple virtual waiting room systems began to emerge, enabling patients to wait in their cars, receiving a text message when it was time to come inside for an appointment.
These text communication systems are the simplest versions of virtual waiting rooms, but healthcare providers are beginning to offer options with more features. Many include a connection to a patient portal with the ability to access medical records or confirm or cancel an appointment. Some include options to submit insurance coverage in advance by uploading a photo of the insurance card, similar to virtual checking, to receive messages from the physician’s office confirming authorization, and to get an estimate of the visit cost, amount of deductible used to date, etc. Some tools offer credit card payment platforms for any uncovered visit costs; provide wayfinding around a hospital or medical office building and navigation to the most optimal parking place; and may even offer suggestions for other activities patients may enjoy while they wait, like visiting the coffee bar in the lobby of the office building.
Redesigning the waiting room — the physical space and the processes that typically take place in the waiting room — can impact more than just the patient experience. Virtual waiting rooms can:
A recent survey of 2,400 consumers, reported through Patient Experience HIT, found that 81 percent of patients said they want the virtual tools adopted during the pandemic to remain a regular part of the healthcare experience. Eighty-four percent responded that virtual waiting rooms/virtual check-in would be good for scheduling and attending COVID-19 vaccine appointments. And 91 percent said they would use these types of technologies if offered to them. As patients continue to seek more efficient healthcare options and a better patient experience, they may prefer or even expect virtual waiting rooms and may incorporate the presence or absence of that option when they select a provider.
More and more consumers are willing to switch providers if their expectations aren’t met. This creates an unprecedented opportunity for growth for providers who can transform access and deliver a best-in-class consumer experience.
Virtual care is here to stay, and healthcare organizations need to take an intentional approach to integrate virtual care for the long run. Doing so involves employing a repeatable methodology that ensures a holistic care model across clinical services.
What is the new normal rate for telehealth adoption? And how is telehealth best utilized by specific service lines and for specific patients and use cases? This new report analyzes 6 key areas to identify trends and practical insights.