Virtual Care 2.0: Innovating for a Virtual-First Future

We brought healthcare online. Now what?

Over the last two years, nearly every company across healthcare has been racing to bring their services online. And patients seem to be on board: McKinsey reports that telehealth rates are 38x higher than before the pandemic. Meanwhile nearly three in four patients plan to receive “some” or “all” of their care virtually after the pandemic.

While widespread telehealth adoption is worthy of being celebrated, it’s only the first step in a long journey towards transforming the healthcare experience. And let’s be honest — today’s telehealth experience can sometimes feel as frustrating and disjointed as a trip to the doctor’s office.

Consider the patient journey for someone who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Up until recently, they would need to find an available appointment to take a PCR test. Once they received their results, they would need to proactively reach out to a telehealth service to determine if they’re a good candidate for antiviral medication. Then they would need to pick up their medication from a pharmacy — all within the five-day window. No easy feat.

Instead, what if they could immediately connect virtually with a clinician if they test positive, discuss their options, and then have antiviral medication prescribed and delivered to their home?Patients should be able to get care on their terms, at any time, and from anywhere.

But this example illustrates some of the challenges we’re facing today. Patients are motivated to use virtual care, but they’re often still driving their own care journey instead of leaning on technology to help guide them along the way.

Now is the time to develop the next generation of virtual care: moving from point-of-care telehealth solutions towards a personalized, patient-centric model. Where we’re doing more than bringing the broken system online and recreating many of the same roadblocks that patients face with in-person care.

Virtual Care 2.0

So, what exactly does the next generation of virtual care look like?

The idea behind virtual care 2.0 (also known as virtual-first care) is to have patients start their care journey with a digital interaction. By leaning on technology, healthcare organizations can more easily triage the patient’s care needs, determine the best care setting from in-person to virtual, and drive follow-up. For patients, this means they can more easily start their care journeys anytime and anywhere that works best for them. And healthcare organizations can build more efficient, personalized, and comprehensive care solutions that guide patients through their care journeys.

Clinicians can also benefit from virtual care 2.0. If we’re moving towards a hybrid care system, then we also need to consider a hybrid workforce. And the last few years have been a good testing ground. As healthcare has moved increasingly online, clinicians have started to experience a new way to work in healthcare: where they can see patients from the comfort of their own home, just like we’ve all experienced over the last few years. And not surprisingly, now 2 in 3 clinicians say that treating patients in virtual-only or hybrid care settings best fits their lifestyle.

Challenges and opportunities for building virtual-first solutions

Creating a virtual-first future won’t be effortless or even straightforward. Building the technology and hybrid workforce to support this next generation of virtual care is much easier said than done. And we’re already several steps behind patients and their expectations — if they can order whatever they need from Amazon with a few taps, why can’t they do the same with their healthcare needs?

  • Rome wasn’t built in a day — and neither will the next generation of virtual care. But here are a few places that healthcare organizations can start:
  • Develop clinical protocols specifically geared for virtual-first care models
  • Similarly, examine your clinician workforce and determine if/how it can be scaled to meet virtual-first care models
  • Start investigating the ROI to build or buy the technological infrastructure to support virtual care 2.0 — including how to best integrate patient data for a cohesive care experience
  • Ensure your regulatory playbook is adaptable to uphold compliance while scaling in a highly regulated industry

Now is the time for the entire industry to work together to make progress towards a virtual-first future. To innovate smarter and more efficiently, to provide clinicians with a new way to work that best fits their lifestyle, and to offer patients the care they need on their own terms. When that happens, we all win.

About the Author

Michelle Davey is the CEO and co-founder of Wheel, the health tech company powering the next generation of healthcare. Michelle is passionate about expanding access to care and founded Wheel to put great care within everyone’s reach by seamlessly enabling companies and clinicians to deliver care virtually.