Jan 14 2022

3 Takeaways for a Robust Digital Health Approach

How can organizations strengthen their digital health strategy beyond a health crisis?

When patient consultant Stacy Hurt accompanied her son, who is nonambulatory and immunosuppressed, to dozens of specialists in 2006, she hoped at least some of the visits would take place virtually. But at the time, she was told it couldn’t be done.

More than a decade later, following the accelerated adoption of virtual care during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hurt would like to see the momentum for telehealth continue. “Just to know that we can have that option of telehealth for routine test results or follow-up visits, it eases our minds a lot,” she said during a virtual HIMSS21 session last summer. 

Healthcare providers have made great strides in recent years toward better patient access, improved interoperability and stronger digital health offerings. The pandemic accelerated many organizations’ virtual care programs, and though concerns about reimbursements and federal oversight cloud a clear path toward a hybrid care delivery model, organizations continue to sharpen their focus on digital health investments.

To ensure long-lasting digital health strategies, healthcare systems need to power and protect their transformations. Modernized infrastructure, smarter virtual care solutions and safe access to patient data are key elements for a digital health approach that’s made to support the robust hybrid future of healthcare.

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1. Infrastructure Updates Provide Healthcare With Speed and Resiliency

“I used to think of resiliency and reliability as a trade-off between speed,” said Casey Bleeker, director of strategic go-to-market, digital-velocity solutions at CDW, in a HIMSS21 virtual presentation. “Now, we can remove that trade-off through a really core technology: automation.”

Many healthcare executives recognize that their organization’s technology architecture is critical to their overall success, and 87 percent agree that their organization’s technology and business strategies are becoming increasingly intertwined, according to Accenture research.

“One of the biggest areas is modernizing their data center strategies to become more business-focused, patient-driven and competitive in today’s markets,” Bleeker said.

Virtual-first care providers offer lessons for traditional healthcare systems looking to establish or sustain better digital health offerings. A modernized foundation is key; tacking on new solutions to an already strained legacy infrastructure will jeopardize a program’s longevity.

LEARN MORE: Find out how digital-first strategies are shaping healthcare.

2. Virtual Care Gives Patients Increased Connection Points

Rapid adoption of virtual care services at the pandemic’s start left some organizations with less efficient or noncompliant workflows. If they haven’t already, providers must reassess their technologies and offer smarter solutions to connect patients with care teams.

Telehealth can be used to build relationships instead of being just a one-off touchpoint.

“I think the biggest shift that's occurred is people realize you can actually do relationship-based ongoing care through telehealth,” says Sam Holliday, CEO of virtual-first gastrointestinal specialty care provider Oshi Health. “That shift now has made consumers more comfortable with telehealth, providers are more comfortable, and it's created a whole set of companies that are redesigning their care, saying it should all be telehealth-first for the things where that's appropriate.”

Payers such as UnitedHealthcare, Anthem and Cigna are among those expanding their offerings for virtual-first health plans. Employers are also looking to such health plans for employee benefits.

READ MORE: Learn 3 tips to bolster virtual care services for better business outcomes.

3. Digital Health Capabilities Require Focus on Security

With the growth of digital health capabilities, providers and patients require better, more seamless access to health data. Security and privacy considerations need to be top of mind.

Data protection, to reduce providers’ risk and guard patient safety, is more critical than ever as healthcare experiences an increase in cyberthreats. Hospital cyberattacks can have serious consequences for patient care. With healthcare organizations already overworked in their pandemic response, along with staff shortages, a cyberattack will only compound stress and degrade the quality of patient care.  

Security needs to be a priority in any healthcare system’s digital health strategy. Consultations, regular testing and partnerships can solidify an organization’s cybersecurity posture. “A lot of security strategies and the ability to rapidly manage and deploy large-scale architectures all come back to infrastructure automation,” Bleeker added.

DISCOVER: Why are partnerships important to healthcare security and incident response?

The federal government also wants cybersecurity to be a focus in healthcare. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website that offers resources for a more cohesive cybersecurity approach across the industry. It lists the top threats to the sector, including ransomware and attacks against connected medical devices.    

These three aspects to building a durable digital health program are deeply interconnected. As value-based care increasingly becomes the standard in the industry, organizations need to ensure their digital health strategies will propel them forward.

Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images

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