Nov 30 2023
Patient-Centered Care

How Specialty Care Is Leading the Change in Telehealth

Specialists continue to transform telehealth to provide more accessible and personalized care.

Providers in specialized areas of healthcare were actively using telehealth long before the COVID-19 pandemic. One report found that, by 2018, telehealth was most often used by radiology, psychiatry and cardiology.

Once general practitioners and their patients started to rely on virtual care more widely, its benefits became more apparent. More than 20 percent of adults used telehealth from 2021 to 2022, according to research from a federal policy advisory group. Still, key lessons have emerged from the growth in telehealth for specialty care.

For instance, Florida-based Moffitt Cancer Center found that telehealth offered cancer patients cost and time savings. Anecdotal evidence from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health also highlights that patients and family members were satisfied with cancer care delivered virtually.

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Telehealth has got to be a meaningful, strategic part of an organization. It can’t be a reactionary part of their enterprise,” says Dr. Neema Navai, deputy chair and associate professor in the urology department at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “It really needs to be strategic, not a series of ‘fear of missing out’ projects. It must integrate into the mission and speak to your core values and competencies.”

Houston-based MD Anderson has centered virtual care in its patient experiences since 2020. With more than 175,000 patients served annually, the health system provides virtual care within ambulatory, behavioral, inpatient and acute care services.

“The public health emergency in the early days of 2020 allowed for a rapid development of telehealth across the U.S., and we were very keen to leverage those tools to address our patients’ needs,” Navai says. “I think our being able to provide continuity of care is game-changing for a lot of patients.”

Dr. Neema Navai
Telehealth has got to be a meaningful, strategic part of an organization’s enterprise. It can’t be a reactionary part of their enterprise.”

Dr. Neema Navai Deputy Chair and Associate Professor, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Virtual Care Offers Enhanced Communication

MD Anderson Cancer Center integrates other communication tools to provide a comprehensive virtual experience. Through Epic’s MyChart, patients can securely access personalized records, billing and near real-time communication with providers. The patient portal also serves as an easy way to connect patients with virtual care appointments.

Epic estimates that more than 100 million patients in 2020 used MyChart to stay connected to healthcare providers. Navai believes that MD Anderson has one of the highest adoption rates of MyChart among providers. Because patients can simply download the MyChart app onto their phones or access the website directly, it encourages broad use, he adds.

“We have a very comprehensive care model at MD Anderson because it's a tertiary cancer care center. MyChart is just one of the ways that we're able to make sure that we have well-informed patients through a great mechanism for communicating,” Navai says.

Even with such ease of access to virtual care, privacy and security remain a top priority. Providers receive training on how the connected technology works and have a dedicated space on MD Anderson’s campus to conduct appointments with remote patients, Navai says.

“Our team receives an all-encompassing education on IT best practices to make sure that we maintain privacy during virtual visits. This includes providing spaces within our institution to conduct these visits that are quiet, focused and private,” Navai says. “We are recreating the environment that you'd expect to have when you go in for a physical visit at the institution. That’s a key element of it.”

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How Specialists Are Using Virtual Care for More Holistic Health

A high percentage of MD Anderson’s patients are transitioning to virtual behavioral healthcare as well, Navai says, and he sees it as an essential part of patient wellness.

“Behavioral healthcare is such a profound need, as a diagnosis of cancer is a very overwhelming situation,” he says. “MD Anderson has really been a best-in-class leader in providing empathetic care pathways. Telehealth has a lot of potential in this space, and we've already seen that.”

Looking ahead, MD Anderson is piloting remote patient monitoring — including biometrics for patients to use at home — and a digital health service to provide patients with additional insights into their cancer journey, Navai says.

“We're eager to continue on that pathway so that we can make sure we touch on all of our patients’ needs using the best possible tool,” Navai says. “What really matters is putting patients at the center of this equation and figuring out the best possible way to address their needs and then deploying the strategy to do so.”


The percentage of patients who want more digital options to help manage their healthcare

Source:, “The digital front door in health care — pain points and how to improve them,” Aug. 24, 2023

Specialists Are Moving Toward More Personalized Care

Gastrointestinal health is another area of specialty care that has benefited from virtual care services. Finding a GI specialist can sometimes take months while patients suffer with symptoms that disrupt their quality of life.

Chicago-based Vivante Health, a digital health company that helps consumers manage gastrointestinal diseases through a virtual platform, guides patients awaiting in-person care, if needed.

“Digestive conditions are physically and emotionally taxing. It can be very difficult to find the proper care quickly. We get our members to the right care at the right time and personalize the experience, resulting in better outcomes and happier patients,” Vivante Health CEO Bill Snyder says.

Users can log on to Vivante Health’s platform via a web browser or a mobile app. They then complete a clinical intake and have immediate access to a full care team. Vivante Health works with employers and health plans that offer its services as an added benefit.

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“Consumers rightfully expect more. In addition to access, they're looking for an incredible experience where it's personalized, and the team that they're working with really understands them and their needs,” Snyder says. “I think what's great is that it forces all digital health companies to be better.”

Vivante Health and companies like it are working toward integrating into the larger healthcare ecosystem using their telehealth expertise to offer personalized care, Snyder adds.

“We can work with a member's primary care physician to augment their care and ensure the member has a completely coordinated experience,” he says.

“Digital Health 2.0” means transforming telehealth to become even more personalized for patients, Snyder says, “utilizing all this rich data, understanding the member’s unique needs and then tailoring a solution for exactly what they need, using evidence-based clinical pathways to make sure that we're optimizing their care.”

Chris Gash/Theispot

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