By Robbie Hughes, CEO & Founder, Lumeon

Article first appeared in Healthcare Business Today available here

As we embark upon another year, the ambition is one of recovery and a return to normality, but as companies globally shut their offices, ‘working from home’ rapidly becomes ‘working from holiday home’ and the gap between the haves and have nots becomes ever more pronounced, the question is – what does normal really look like in the new reality?

And what does this mean for healthcare?

From the patient side, things haven’t really evolved – their desire for easy, affordable, convenient care hasn’t changed, but what has evolved is their ability to realize it for the first time. The much-used phrase ‘meeting the patient where they are’ has taken the literal form of the caregiver now having no choice but to present themselves in the patient’s home for all but the most acute of interventions. A reimbursement construct to support this has been created and it has worked, more or less. Caregivers who refused to consider it previously have been converted, and patients have been shown a brave new world where they get what they want on the terms that they get everything else in life – the ‘iPhonification’ of healthcare is real.

As we enter the second phase of the pandemic, hidden to the consumer, the tectonic plates of care delivery are shifting again. The perception of convenience has been delivered, but it is a fragile existence.

The consultation was never the entire care experience, yet that is all that has been virtualized.  What about tests, meds, labs? What about all the objective evidence that is required to make a decision?

Everything is virtual, and yes, it is convenient, but does it deliver equivalent outcomes? Is a patient, who is seen entirely virtually, going to get the same standard of care as one that is not?

This is where the debate will move to in 2021 and to give a sneak preview of the conclusion, the answer will be that ‘it depends’.

Caregivers who have spent a lifetime examining a patient with their eyes, ears, nose and hands have not simply given up these senses overnight without some sort of compromise. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality of care will be worse, and for the sake of saying it, in many cases, it will be dramatically improved, but it is important to recognize that it will be different.

For 2021, the problem is going to be how to make virtual care sustainable, scalable, and safe?

Orchestrating the right components of care, for the right patient, at the right time, and doing so by incorporating decisions around whether a patient’s presentation can be dealt with entirely remotely, partially remotely or entirely physically – as well as how to navigate between these modes – is going to be one of the great challenges that providers will wrestle with.

Moving consultations to Zoom was a singular problem, getting organizations fluent with how, when and if to use it will be quite another. To say nothing of balancing the revenue cycle implications of care, that could or should have been delivered in one setting, now being delivered in an entirely different one. Pointing a patient to the imaging center down the hall, or helping a patient fill a prescription is not easily done in a virtual world, and the revenue consequences will be material if patient interactions remain in silos and not part of a well-orchestrated journey.

Ironically, the clear winners of 2020 (the remote care providers) could be the ones that suffer the most if an amassing body of evidence shows that it is not safe to see patients in this way, irrespective of the convenience to the consumer.

The care delivery organizations that succeed in the future will not operate exclusively remotely or exclusively face to face, they will be experts at both. They will have solved the problem of how to deliver the right care, safely, to the right patients at the right time, and they will have worked out how to do this sustainably, in a way that is convenient to the consumer.

The promises have been made, now is the time to deliver.

Download the recently published ‘Frost & Sullivan 2021 Guide to Care Journey Orchestration’ which explains how care orchestration benefits health systems and their patients now and in the future.

Robbie Hughes is the Founder and CEO of Lumeon. An engineer by training, he started the company after first-hand experience of the impact that fragmented care delivery processes have on patient experience. Taking a step back to develop a fresh approach, he built the award-winning Care Pathway Management platform to connect care teams, patients and technology across the care continuum. The platform enables healthcare providers to automate and orchestrate end-to-end processes by creating their own unique pathways.