Blog Post

Why you need a virtual digestive health offering—and how to build it

October 20, 2020

    As a result of Covid-19, telehealth became a more significant player in care delivery, and digestive health was no exception. 

    Slide deck: How Covid-19 has changed consumer virtual visit utilization and preferences

    Why digestive health is ripe for virtual care

    The widespread piloting of virtual GI programs improved GI provider and patient perception of telehealth. According to Healio's 2020 COVID-19 GI Telehealth Survey, 97% of GI providers agreed telehealth is an acceptable form of care delivery for a segment of GI patients and 84% of patients reported being willing to use GI telehealth visits again in the future. So now the question is: What role does telehealth play in GI strategy in the future?

    In the medium term, telehealth has a logical place in addressing new GI demand from Covid-19 complications. The growing list of Covid-19 complications now includes GI symptoms. One study in the Annals of Surgery found that 74% of Covid-19 patients reported one GI complication, such as diarrhea, hypomotility, or bowel ischemia. By offering virtual GI services to Covid-19 patients, health systems can mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

    Additionally, many digestive health patients are a high-risk group for infections and require frequent, long-term care management. Patients suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), for example, are typically managed with immunosuppressants, which leaves them at a high-risk of infection, yet they require frequent, on-going care. The high-risk, long-term nature of digestive health patients' care pathway makes a segment of them ideal candidates for virtual care and remote patient monitoring during the pandemic and beyond.

    4 tips for a successful virtual GI service offering

    Digestive health leaders should adopt these four tactics to ensure their telehealth offering supports their strategy in the long term: 

    1. Ground telehealth in an existing business goal: Use telehealth to meet another goal, such as expanding facility capacity or growing your geographic reach—not to check a box. Since the regulatory landscape of telehealth is still shifting, this will help ensure you achieve a larger system goal if reimbursement does not align.

    2. Scope your service offering: Narrow your virtual offering to the most clinically appropriate services for virtual platforms. Although health systems have had to apply telehealth broadly during the pandemic, many anticipate maintaining a virtual digestive health offering for general GI consultations, chronic care management (ie. IBD, Cirrhosis, Crohn's disease, and more), remote patient monitoring, and pre- and postoperative care.

    3. Ensure physician buy-in: To ensure the success of your program, educate providers on the benefits of virtual care and equip your providers with the necessary tools to make virtual care possible. In the 2020 Healio survey, 54% of gastroenterologist expect less than a quarter of their future care will be done via telehealth, so it is imperative to emphasize the benefits of telehealth to your physicians, while remaining flexible and open to feedback. Work with your providers to create a mutually beneficial virtual offering, aligned to the interests and skills of your physicians and the types of services your organization would like to provide virtually.

    4. Create an implementation plan: Create a plan with time-based milestones to incorporate your virtual offering into your system infrastructure. Implement dedicated virtual care block times for providers, identify a digestive health telehealth champion to lead the initiative, and track patient satisfaction and virtual care outcomes to establish the framework for a successful virtual digestive health program.

    Learn more: Your Covid-19 service line impact guide

    As elective procedures restart, you’ll need to weigh the impacts of Covid-19 on individual service lines. Different services will likely take different paths to volume recovery, face distinct challenges in clearing volume backlogs, and see some unique impacts to longer term demand.

    See our take on the major implications for elective procedures within gastroenterology, orthopedics and spine, general surgery and urology, cardiovascular, imaging, oncology, and OB/GYN service lines.

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