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When U.S. life was disrupted in early March, healthcare systems found themselves at the nexus of both the problems and the solutions.

Seemingly overnight, processes that had been carefully crafted and stress-tested over years — sometimes decades — were disrupted. And even worse, many of the emergency procedures that had been catalogued and periodically rehearsed proved insufficient for the new reality.

Trends in cancellations and a shift to telehealth

As the threat of COVID-19 came into public awareness, changes to health systems’ standard operations changed drastically. During the last week of March 2020, WELL clients saw a 78 percent increase in cancelled and rescheduled outpatient appointments.

As the characteristics and duration of the pandemic became better understood by health systems and patients, there was a lightning-fast shift to telehealth as an alternative care delivery mechanism. Technology and engagement initiatives that had previously languished in drawn out prioritization processes suddenly rocketed to must-do status.

WELL clients also saw virtual appointments increase by 15 fold over just ten days between March 13 and March 23, reaching a peak of 43 percent of all visits being completed by telehealth by the middle of April.

Cedars-Sinai ramps up messaging

Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles leveraged WELL to immediately ramp up its messaging, reaching benchmarks that would have been impossible in a traditional call center model. Cedars successfully rescheduled 15,000 visits from in-person to telehealth in March. Moreover, through the use of conversational intelligent communication, the rescheduling was done without the need to increase staff.

“WELL has been instrumental in helping us deploy timely communication to our scheduled patients with a digital agility we previously didn’t have,” said Darren Dworkin Senior Vice President of Enterprise Information Services and Chief Information Officer at Cedars-Sinai.

What has changed

Many of the changes and innovations developed during the pandemic will not be turned back. They will be a part of a new normal that is only now starting to come into focus.

Distance delivery of care through telehealth has reached a new level of acceptance by both clinicians and patients. Moving forward, there will be pressure on payors to move to adequate reimbursement for this model of care. In turn, health systems will likely be incentivized to accommodate expenses by further right-sizing facilities and staffing. Legislative and policy changes will be required.

Health systems will need to build resilient organizations that will withstand sudden and prolonged surges. Changes to technology capacity and delivery, staffing, facilities, supply chain and reserves will be considered.

Patient education and communication will need to be sustained at the level experienced during the pandemic. Information about community issues, health system facility issues, and individual appointment and health information will need to be at a near-steady stream. And myriad patient preferences for receiving this information will have to be managed.

Capacity on demand

When the pandemic has been quelled, every health system in the country will take up the challenge of how to better prepare for the next time. Preparation involves building “capacity on demand” into every aspect of healthcare delivery.

At WELL, we built capacity on demand into our platform. This enabled us to handle the surge in communication during the pandemic. Moving forward, the WELL architecture is ready whenever additional capacity may next be needed. Its technology can ramp communication 10x without requiring any additional inputs or staffing. It can also maintain a consistent lower level of communication while reducing staff.

Similarly, the same messaging rubric can be applied to managed clinical journeys — effectively driving wellness between visits. Coupled with your existing systems for scheduling, health records, billing and collections and patient education, WELL will amplify your return on investment in those systems by dramatically improving patient engagement and responsiveness. ♥