The global outbreak of COVID-19 has upended familiar daily routines, changing the way we work, socialize, and shop. It’s a new reality. And health systems are especially feeling the burden.
With new Coronavirus hot spots cropping up across the United States, hospitals are overburdened and providers face serious burnout. However, in areas that haven’t been hit as hard by the pandemic, health systems are experiencing sharp drops in revenue as fearful patients avoid in-person medical care because of social distancing regulations.
Let’s take a look at how, in the age of COVID-19, enterprise health systems can remain viable by shifting their focus to remote patient monitoring and digital behavioral health integration.
Health Systems Reeling from Global Pandemic
The consequences of COVID-19 for the healthcare industry are twofold. First, health care providers have been cut off from patients with preexisting conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and especially mental illness. Because of the fear of contracting COVID-19, many of these patients may avoid preventative interventions until it’s too late and they’re forced to seek emergency care. Unfortunately, the patients most likely to avoid in-person visits are those with preexisting conditions—the same patients who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. Remote patient monitoring allows health systems to engage with and get care to the people who need it the most.
Second, unsurprisingly, revenues have plunged. A report from the American Hospital Association estimates that the total financial impact of COVID-19 for hospitals and health systems could be more than $200 billion for the four-month period covering March through June 2020.
Embracing New Revenue Streams
For enterprise health systems, survival is the main goal at the moment. The organizations that are able to best adapt are the ones that will come out on top as the world emerges from the haze of the pandemic.
Adapting will mean uncovering new revenue streams and finding novel ways to monitor patients and improve care at a safe distance. And so far, many organizations are on the right track, adopting telemedicine and remote patient monitoring practices, both of which provide a way for health systems to track patients from afar while generating revenue in the absence of in-person patient visits.
Digital Behavioral Health Integration in the Era of COVID-19
That’s because COVID-19 has introduced a number of new stressors to our daily lives that many are finding it difficult to cope with, including:
- Close relationships are being put to the test
- Unemployment rates are increasing
- Fear and anxiety are disrupting our sleep
- Substance abuse and opioid-related deaths are on the rise
- Existing mental health disorders are likely to worsen
Health systems integrating remote patient care for general medicine should be doing the same for mental health care. Not only will it add another much needed source of revenue, but it can also improve patient outcomes in the long term.
The demand for mental health services has long been higher than the supply of available sit-down appointments. The Coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this disparity. People with anxiety or other behavioral disorders often don’t feel comfortable sitting down for a face-to-face meeting, and the distance provided by the remote model creates a sense of space and comfort.
Treating the Whole Person
In recent years, there’s been a push for collaborative care models, which integrate behavioral health care with primary care. In other words, treat the whole person—body and mind.
When correctly applied, this approach can:
- Improve patient outcomes for depression and anxiety
- Increase patient and provider satisfaction
- Lower the risk of cardiovascular events
- Reduce overall health care costs
But even with the integration of remote care, how can health systems effectively monitor the mental health of their patients at a distance?
Measurement-based care has so far proved to be one of the most effective approaches. It consists of rating scales that can reliably measure psychiatric symptoms. Despite decades of research affirmation and the ability to bill for it, less than 20 percent of psychiatrists use measurement-based care practices.
Coming Out Ahead
In the new reality presented by the global coronavirus pandemic, adaptation is key. Hospitals and health systems that can offer high-quality care and embrace billable remote behavioral health services, behavioral health integration, and measurement-based care will be on track to come out ahead and remain viable in the quickly changing healthcare landscape.
These concepts represent a significant shift in the treatment paradigm but will be table stakes moving forward. Change of this scale doesn’t happen overnight. But the implications, especially during the current global pandemic, could help change the trajectory of patients’ lives as well as the financial viability of enterprise health systems for years to come.