Quantifying the Impact of Virtual Care: What Should You Be Measuring?By: Caregility Team
This season, most of us find ourselves looking back on the year’s accomplishments and making plans for the year ahead.
For healthcare professionals, 2023 planning entails looking for new solutions to problems that contributed to one of the toughest financial years in recent history. Research from KaufmanHall pegged 2022 as the worst-performing year for hospitals since the beginning of the pandemic, with margins down 37 percent and 2022 expenses toppling 2021 levels by nearly $135 billion. This was largely attributed to inflated labor costs as hospitals compete for staff amid workforce shortages.
Overcoming these challenges in the new year comes down to an objective that lives on health system to-do lists in perpetuity: finding innovative ways to work smarter.
In the years during and since the pandemic, telehealth and virtual care have played a significant role in clinical transformation. Perhaps most notably, healthcare organizations are getting serious about hybrid care models that leverage telehealth at the bedside to support patient safety, workforce flexibility, and competitive differentiation.
Given the infancy of virtual and hybrid models, care teams looking to understand what quantifies program success may find themselves in uncharted territory. Whether you’re evaluating your performance over the past year or building a case to measure programs you may be planning for 2023, these key performance indicators spell success for virtual care.
KPIs to Assess the Value of Virtual Care Programs
As you get started, think about what data you can collect on your virtual care program to compare to traditional models. If possible, gather information on trends and averages prior to launching your virtual program to establish a baseline for comparison. There are several direct and indirect cost factors to consider.
Look for improvements to these clinical measures to assess program value as it relates to patient safety and outcomes:
- Average length of stay
- Care escalation trends
- Harm or adverse event incidence
- Patient fall rate
- Patient fall-with-injury rate
- Patient throughput
- Readmission rate
Improvements to these clinical quality metrics have direct cost and reimbursement implications. Clinical outcomes also influence patient experience as reflected in HCAHPS scores. Assess how scores for patient satisfaction and experience compare before and after implementation.
Another key consideration – particularly given the current staffing climate – is virtual care’s impact on clinician experience and turnover.
The 2021 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report placed the average cost of turnover for a bedside RN at $46,100, with each percent change in RN turnover costing or saving the average hospital an additional $262,300 per year. Clearly, a lot is on the line when it comes to finding new ways to better support and keep staff.
Bearing that in mind, factor these metrics into your ROI analysis:
- Leave Rates: Did your virtual care program reduce leave rates by improving workflows to reduce burnout?
- Talent Acquisition: Does your virtual program introduce remote work opportunities that attract new workers?
- Staff Retention: Is the virtual program improving care team satisfaction to help retain talent?
Routinely conduct surveys to collect staff feedback on their experience with and perceptions of the virtual care program. Do clinicians find the technology to be helpful and easy to use? Do virtual support resources improve the experience for new hires? What do team members like and dislike about virtual workflows and how can problems be addressed?
Conduct time studies prior to implementation to serve as a benchmark to evaluate efficiency gains. Compare pre- and post-implementation studies to determine time saved by transitioning processes to virtual workflows. Gather average hourly rates and staffing numbers in traditional care models to look at ROI associated with reduced labor costs in virtual care programs.
For admission workflows, for example, how long does it take to complete a full admission virtually? How does the average number of virtual admissions conducted per shift compare to your traditional care model?
Although harder to quantify, time savings generated for floor staff by transitioning common processes to virtual workflows can be reinvested in other patient-facing activities, extending program benefits to additional areas.
Effectively implemented virtual care programs can have a tremendous impact on each of the above metrics. Collectively, these improvements can create substantial value and ROI for health systems at a time when it’s greatly needed. Programs should demonstrate cost savings and/or improvement in clinical outcomes, satisfaction, and/or throughput. By measuring the direct and indirect benefits of your virtual and hybrid care initiatives, you can justify your program and inform process improvements as your strategy evolves.