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Developing an Inpatient Virtual Care Strategy That Works

Healthcare organizations are moving beyond the ad hoc implementations which characterized virtual care and telehealth during the earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s now time to transform the stopgap tactical telehealth measures they deployed when COVID-19 first hit into cohesive, forward-looking, patient-centered care strategies that support their long-range goals.

The Benefits of Developing an Inpatient Virtual Care Strategy

An interoperable, platform-focused approach will provide a framework for an inpatient virtual care strategy that is scalable, secure, reliable and capable of evolving and adapting as an organization changes and grows.

As part of a comprehensive telehealth services plan, platform-based inpatient virtual care can help healthcare organizations with a number of challenges, beginning with improving safety and quality. Telehealth at the bedside can enable care teams to deliver quality inpatient and virtual medical care and expand observation while reducing contact exposure and conserving PPE.

Similarly, inpatient virtual care can reduce the care team burden. By providing interoperable solutions and an “always connected” platform, care teams are freed to focus more on meaningful contact with patients and less on redundant, time-consuming tasks.

Inpatient virtual care can shape patient engagement, by providing digital tools at the bedside, preparing for them for discharge, and minimizing the risk of readmission.

And finally, inpatient virtual care can address health inequities. Virtual remote interpretation (VRI) capabilities can be integrated into existing platforms to reduce health inequities for deaf, hard of hearing and limited English proficient patients. To overcome disparities for patients of lower socioeconomic backgrounds who do not have access to devices, organizations can provide devices to enable equitable access to virtual services.

Overcoming Obstacles

Multi-phase plans based on scalable technology can help organizations overcome common stumbling blocks as they incorporate an inpatient virtual care strategy into their overall telehealth capabilities.

These factors include:

  • Legacy facilities and infrastructure. The answer here is to focus on key opportunities for digital solutions in patient rooms, with an eye on phasing in capabilities using modular platforms.
  • Capital expenditure. Healthcare providers are under more financial pressure than ever. The key is to look for partners that offer cost-effective virtual care solutions and a pathway to the future. This might mean starting simply with tablets at the bedside and planning for large wall displays, cameras and microphones down the road when budgets allow.
  • Patients’ own devices. Patients’ personal devices are not a reliable solution for virtual care, and not all patients have devices. Organizations should look instead to interoperable platforms that run on any device available, including enterprise hardware.
  • Security and trust. The loosening of HIPAA restrictions during the beginning of the pandemic is not the way of the future. Organizations must plan for inpatient care solutions that ensure HIPAA compliance.
  • Care team adoption. To ensure acceptance and consistent use by care team members, virtual care solutions should work seamlessly together to share context so clinicians can easily connect to patient rooms without additional passwords, interpreters can be instantly connected, and specialist visits can be documented in the EHR without extra steps.
  • Change management. The implementation of an inpatient virtual care strategy involves some changes in routine practices. Designating an executive sponsor to introduce the platform and champion implementation can help smooth the transition.

The 4 C’s of an Effective Virtual Inpatient Care Platform

Healthcare organizations developing or searching for a virtual inpatient care platform need to keep in mind the four C’s of an effective platform: Consultation, Communication, Connection, and Control.

The platform must have the ability to consult with specialists in remote locations, as well as the ability for care teams to communicate safely with patients who are quarantined. Patients must also be able to communicate readily with care teams, and connect with friends and family, even if quarantined. And finally, a virtual inpatient care platform should deliver technology in the service of engaging and empowering patients and families during the hospital stay with everything from meal ordering and room lighting to personalized patient education and discharge planning.

Gauging the Success of Your Virtual Care Strategies

Organizations should plan to measure the effectiveness of their inpatient virtual care strategies using metrics such as:

  • Language access. What percentage of encounters utilize language access? How long do patients wait for an interpreter? How do staff feel about using the solutions?
  • HCAHPS scores. How do scores for patient satisfaction and experience compare before and after implementation?
  • Average length of stay and readmission rates pre- and post-implementation.
  • Compliance with current regulations regarding security, privacy and language access.
  • Care team satisfaction. Do clinicians find the technology helpful and easy to use? What do they like and not like and how can problems be addressed?

Despite the pandemic, current technology combined with new care strategies makes it possible for providers to significantly broaden their telehealth capabilities now and to begin delivering enhanced digital resources to the bedside for the benefit of patients and care teams alike.

Expanding telehealth but don’t know where to start? Read our post: 6 Musts for Choosing a Mobile Telehealth Solution

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