The digitization of healthcare didn't suddenly start with the coronavirus, as telehealth providers have been popping up for several years.
“This situation has really laid bare a lot of the issues that have been within the system for this whole time,” he said. “And in addition to those, these days nobody wants any compromised patients coming anywhere near a clinic unless they have to be there. So, this notion of keeping patients connected without getting them infected has become kind of an additional mantra for us.”
Brozinsky’s firm has long believed that a digital upgrade could vastly improve healthcare. That’s why the company focused on building a platform designed to make it easy for providers to connect with patients — seeking out the right level of service at all times via phone calls, telehealth and in-person visits.
Brozinsky said things like patient non-compliance with medical care plans was endemic even before the pandemic, adding billions of dollars of waste per year to the medical system. The added pressure that providers have faced from COVID-19 has only highlighted the need to leverage virtualization to efficiently treat patients and provide care across multiple channels.
He said such changes won’t be temporary, but instead represent the entire industry awaking to the idea that it needs to conduct business differently — and more digitally.
The Rapid Rise In Telehealth
Brozinsky said telehealth — or online visits between a patient and a doctor — represents only part of the larger virtualization of healthcare. But it’s captured the most attention in recent months as doctors’ offices closed due to the pandemic and telehealth usage skyrocketed.
He said health system clients tell Conversa that adoption rates have soared from low-single-digit percentages of provider visits to above 60 percent now — and in some cases as high as 90 percent.
“This was building, but we weren't at a tipping point,” he said. “What telehealth likely required was catalyst, [and] COVID-19 has now been that catalyst that pushed it … right over the edge.”
Brozinsky said the pandemic overcame the inertia that patients tended to show when it came to telemedicine Getting consumers to try virtual visits had been hard, but such reluctance evaporated as patients needed healthcare even as the average person became disinclined to walk into a doctor’s office.
The biggest change Conversa is seeing is which providers are offering telehealth. Whereas the concept was until recently just the province of third-party telehealth firms looking to innovate, traditional medical providers are now on board as well.
“The percentage of visits is actually shifting away from the external telehealth companies to within health system companies,” Brozinsky said. “And the reason is [that] patients want to see their own doctors. So, if you think about that perspective, the platform we've built and platforms like it are providing the capacity for that to happen smoothly, safely and seamlessly.”
And although consumer usage likely won’t stay at today’s incredibly elevated levels forever, adoption isn’t going away anytime soon, he said. Patients aren’t going to want to crowd into waiting rooms unnecessarily in a pre-vaccine world — and even in a post-vaccine one, consumers might appreciate telehealth’s convenience.
The New Way Forward
Brozinsky said he thinks that when we look at healthcare a year from now, a whole lot of things will look different in terms of what patients expect and what providers bring to the table.
Instead of expensive patient outreach — and staff time wasted on follow-up phone calls and visits that don’t really need to happen — patients might connect online to the information they need easily and effectively.
Brozinksy said Conversa has spent several years building a patient care management platform designed to work at enormous scale. It contains everything from chronic care programs for diabetes patients to post-acute care programs for those emerging from hospitalizations. The goal now is to use $12 million in recent funding to build out the platform in terms of both its offerings and its personalization level.
All in all, Brozinsky said the pandemic has shown that fundamental change is coming to healthcare because it has to.
“This has been a tremendous wake-up call that infectious diseases aren’t going away, and we don't have immunity to all of them,” he said. “This is definitely going to be part of our future, and I think the needs we’ve seen exposed will get built into the way we work and provide care.”