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Coronavirus Pandemic Reshaping Future of Clinical Care

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   November 13, 2020

The pandemic is transforming care delivery through rapid adoption of telemedicine and shifting approaches to value-based care.

Editor's note: This article is based on a recent roundtable discussion report sponsored by Optum. The full report, Coronavirus Pandemic Accelerating Transformation of Clinical Care, is available as a free download.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped healthcare on several fronts—either promoting new care models or accelerating adoption of innovations.

A prime example is telemedicine. Prior to the pandemic, telehealth visits were relatively limited, and physicians were hesitant to adopt telemedicine in their practices. Once the pandemic hit and both physicians and patients were concerned about the spread of the novel coronavirus in healthcare settings, telemedicine adoption accelerated to unprecedented levels.

A relatively unexplored frontier of telemedicine that could heat up as the pandemic continues is in the inpatient setting, says Shafeeq Ahmed, MD, MBA, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Howard County General Hospital—A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"As a community hospital within a large academic health system, we do not necessarily have every specialist. There are several specialists that may not be present, which can prohibit some types of care. Now, we can get specialists via telemedicine, and it can work across the country for all sorts of rural hospitals. And you do not have to move your patients to a higher cost of care setting," he says. 

Telemedicine specialists could work in the postacute setting, too, Ahmed said. "Instead of physically embedding someone in a skilled nursing facility, you may be able to have evaluations via telehealth."

The pandemic is changing the approach and priorities related to value-based care at health systems and hospitals, says Gary Smalto, MD, MBA, a practice partner at Optum Advisory Services.

"What we are seeing across the country is an intense focus on managing cost and quality at the same time on the acute care side though care standardization to improve those costs under value, and around bundled payments. But on the ambulatory side, we need to find out how we are going to invest in digital health to expand our footprint and dive into the customer experience. One of the biggest things we are seeing is an intense focus on customer experience and how we can deliver valuable programs into the home that go beyond telemedicine or replacing an office visit with telemedicine," he says. 

The coronavirus pandemic has increased cooperation between former health system rivals, says Brian Johnson, MD, chief medical officer of Allegheny Health Network's West Penn Hospital.

"In Pittsburgh, we have a competitive healthcare environment, with several providers in the area. We are not well known for collaborating because of the intense level of competition between us. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CMOs from every network as well as other leaders from every network came together to discuss how we were going to collectively manage the pandemic from a public health perspective. How are we going to share best practices? How are we going to do the right things for patients by working through this process under one umbrella?" he says.

Some degree of cooperation is likely to continue after the coronavirus crisis has passed, Johnson says. "It started out as sort of a trial. Within a couple of weeks, it became a weekly discussion, and we enhanced how we did things. I do not think it will remain in place to the same degree, but it has opened the door to us sharing ideas."

View the complete HealthLeaders CMO Roundtable report "Coronavirus Pandemic Accelerating Transformation of Clinical Care"

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.

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