Capacity management is a high-stakes game. Done well, it balances patient needs and provider workloads. Done poorly, it risks patient outcomes, revenue and the hospital’s reputation. This isn’t news to hospitals, but here’s what is: some capacity management solutions are putting them at risk.
Consider your local health network, which might run multiple clinics, medical centers and hospitals. At just one of those hospitals, patients and staff will flow through emergency rooms, surgical suites, outpatient offices and intensive care units. Administrators have to balance patient demand with available space and staff to ensure doctors aren’t overworked or underutilized.
This matters because it can directly impact patient outcomes and hospital finances. Waiting for an inpatient bed to open up on a behavioral psych unit can dissuade a patient from seeking treatment. Specialists may rush from service to service one day and be idle the rest of the week. Congested patient flows can bottleneck daily operations.
To better meet evolving needs and deliver a more attentive patient experience, many hospitals have turned to advanced telemedicine. By creating virtual health programs with the right provider agnostic technology and the right infrastructure, they can protect their brand and finances and ensure an exceptional patient-provider experience.
Unfortunately, many are turning to outdated Direct-To-Consumer services that lead to revenue leakage and worse.
The Capacity Management Benefits of Telemedicine
There’s no doubt that agnostic telemedicine, where hospitals can use their own providers to assist with capacity management, offers three valuable benefits:
Remote patient monitoring can help providers manage chronic disease and decrease hospital readmissions. By using telemedicine to address emerging issues, the Care Beyond Walls and Wires remote monitoring program improved outcomes for patients suffering from chronic disease in rural communities and remote Native American reservations. Over a six-month period, readmissions dropped by 44 percent, patients were hospitalized 64 percent fewer days, and hospital charges lowered by $92,000 per patient.
Extended Specialist Care Delivery:
Hospitals can also extend services beyond brick and mortar walls through telemedicine, especially when they lack specialists or ICU intensivists. Remote providers can deliver stroke triage, ICU treatment and other consultations without the hospital paying a staff specialist or neurologist for minimal clinical need.
Drop in Unnecessary Visits:
Many patients rely on unscheduled acute care instead of maintaining a relationship with a primary care provider. These visits tend to overcrowd ER waiting rooms and extend the waiting time for all patients. Virtual healthcare can help patients stay home while doctors can decide if they need a prescription, further diagnostic testing or ER services – which lightens demand on crowded clinics.
The Insidious Risks of Poor Capacity Management
While any hospital can enjoy these benefits, many administrators are putting their integrity and brand equity at stake by outsourcing services through Direct-To-Consumer telemedicine companies. These organizations claim to sell technology but are more interested in promoting their physician network.
These virtual services can seem valuable on the surface – but hospitals usually experience three dire effects:
1. Hospitals can pay twice for the same doctor.
Most physicians are independent contractors who provide care at multiple locations. Many of them offer their services to Direct-To-Consumer telehealth companies so that the hospital pays for them to be on staff and then pays again for their services through the telehealth vendor. Essentially these providers outsource their services to groups who then sell it back to the same system.
2. Health networks can leak revenue and risk their brand and proprietary protocols.
Hospitals spend significant time and money to properly train their staff in specific care and bedside manner protocols, but then outsource to teledoctors who disrupt those standards by following their own protocols. This can expose systems to brand and reputation degradation. By leveraging the right technology, systems can optimize their own internal physician capacity while preserving their protocols and retaining revenue. In addition to fostering both brand consistency and patient loyalty, the familiar patient-provider relationships and access to historical information can drive better patient outcomes.
3. Patients receive convenience consults, rather than evidence-based medicine.
When patients go to a hospital, they expect more than a conversation. They expect to receive real expertise – that physicians will access their medical records, gather and evaluate clinical data and collaborate with other providers for more accurate diagnoses and informed care plans. But Direct-To-Consumer telemedicine provides only symptom-based care. The provider on the screen doesn’t know the patient’s other doctors, gleans no clinically-rich evidence and has no access to their medical history and data in the hospital’s EMR. Sadly, there is no medicine in Direct-to-Consumer Telemedicine.
Mastering the Resource Balancing Act
Agnostic virtual health platforms can help hospitals put their equipment, staff and space to the best use possible. Organizations can balance capacity by using their own physicians and provide an exceptional experience for patients who truly need it. As a cost-effective alternative to building new inpatient units or hiring additional physicians, it’s the responsible approach to both telemedicine and capacity management.