AJ Peterson

As with any crisis, COVID-19 has exposed and widened existing cracks in the foundations of our nation’s healthcare infrastructure.

This instability is particularly evident in senior care, given the extreme levying of pressure on health systems, providers and staff. With the weight of the pandemic miring classic models of care delivery, how can virtual care help senior care facilities deliver more person-centered care?

To better understand the benefits of virtual care, we must first understand the term in its entirety. After establishing the definition, we will explore the three care components your organization should consider implementing.

What is virtual care?

Virtual care is a comprehensive model of care that addresses issues health systems are attempting to resolve remotely, including infection control, access, affordability, disease management, clinician shortages and regulatory compliance.

This catch-all term encompasses the many ways providers interact with residents in clinical settings, including virtual doctor visits, telemonitoring, virtual data sharing and many other remote processes.

Which components of virtual care should my organization provide?

While the offerings of telehealth are numerous, virtual visits, remote monitoring and artificial intelligence are three components your organization should employ. Individually, these virtual strategies optimize care; collectively, these virtual strategies revolutionize care.  

Virtual Visits

According to a study from Accenture, 70% of consumers surveyed would prefer to have a virtual exam for minor ailments like a sore throat or a sinus condition. While this statistic is telling, the benefits of telehealth extend far beyond satisfying would-be consumers. By implementing a telehealth platform at your organization, you can:

  • Better manage chronic conditions
  • Reduce infection risks 
  • Solve for mobility issues
  • Decrease hospitalizations
  • Expand provider capacity coverage

With increased infection control measures amid COVID-19, virtual visits provide a portal for traditional care to occur via untraditional mediums. By hosting conventional appointments virtually, your organization is able to deliver care while adhering to the new standards of infection control.

Remote monitoring

This facet of virtual care refers to ongoing, remote patient monitoring using external electronic devices. Through the same study conducted by Accenture, it was determined that 77% of consumers prefer to track their health status virtually, including metrics like blood pressure, blood glucose and pulse rate. By tracking these vitals remotely, your organization can:

  • Create self-management skills for residents 
  • Decrease hospitalizations
  • Increase clinician work capacity
  • Improve outcomes
  • Reduce risk to drive down cost

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt conventional care, implementation of remote monitoring reduces the need for in-person care visits, eliminating potential infection risk. In addition, remote monitoring empowers residents to have a more active role in their health, allowing them to understand why and how decisions are made regarding treatment.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence can operate in many different spaces of the healthcare continuum. While the automatic association with AI may conjure the robotic, machine learning can exist in your organization in the shape of conversational AI, which refers to messaging apps, speech-based assistants and chatbots to automate communication. Incorporating these functions into your organization can:

  • Reduce clinician’s burden
  • Improve access to clinical care
  • Engage residents in care
  • Improve management of chronic conditions
  • Drive proactive personalized care

As we wade into a new frontier of senior care, it is vital to harness the capabilities of existing tools to navigate this new space. Incorporating early iterations of artificial intelligence, like speech-based assistants, not only allow your organization to optimize care, but can also ensure that your organization is primed to meet the next development in machine learning. 

While these tools allow for safe delivery of care whole-person care amid and beyond COVID-19, they also solve for many of the structural inadequacies across the healthcare continuum, creating opportunities for providers to fortify the system today for tomorrow’s benefit.

AJ Peterson is vice president and general manager of Netsmart, a healthcare software company that supports more than 30,000 post-acute and human services organizations. He is responsible for driving a client-focused model around Netsmart’s interoperability and consumer engagement solutions.