OPYS Telehealth Blog Series
January 6, 2022 Issue No. 2
Anytime you hear or read a healthcare related news story, there seems to be more information about COVID, and the global pandemic that is now approaching the two-year mark. The newest variant gaining traction is called flurona. As you might guess, the term flurona is used when a patient has been infected with both the flu and the coronavirus. More and more cases of flurona are being identified around the world. Since both the flu and the coronavirus are respiratory infections, they often exhibit very similar symptoms like coughing, fever, sore throat, and diarrhea. Additionally, we see cases of the Omicron variant of COVID increasing across the United States; making it even more difficult to schedule a test, or even to find an ‘at-home COVID-19 test kit’.
In these situations, as has been the case throughout the COVID pandemic, telehealth and virtual visits have risen to the forefront in healthcare delivery. Both the patient and the provider can remain socially distanced and still complete a clinically viable healthcare visit. In May of 2020, the Commonwealth Fund published an article entitled “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Outpatient Visits: A Rebound Emerges.” As the article details, many outpatient visits were converted to virtual visits during the pandemic. The detailed analysis of the various specialties tracked during the entire year of 2020 was published in February 2021. One of the questions that the February 2021 article shed light on was ‘Are new policies encouraging greater use of telemedicine?’ From OPYS’s perspective, the answer is a resounding ‘YES’.
For those of you who worked in the healthcare industry from 2008 to 2012, the introduction of new vendors, solutions, and technologies during the COVID pandemic is eerily familiar to the explosion of solutions offered during the release and aftermath of the HITECH Act when Electronic Healthcare Records became a nationwide priority. For a summary of the HITTECH Act, check out this article from HIPAA Exams. While this blog article will not try to explain the HITECH Act, Meaningful Use, and all that has transpired in the ensuing 12 years, we think it is essential to draw a parallel to how telehealth and virtual visits have transformed the delivery of healthcare during the pandemic. If you are new to the term telemedicine, telehealth, or virtual visits, you might want to check out some of the FAQs and resources available at the Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center or the National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers.
One of the newest trends in healthcare delivery is the concept of ‘Virtual First’. According to recent articles from CVS and HyVee, they are both joining the virtual healthcare market and disrupting healthcare delivery models across the country. CVS’s announcement was published in August 2021 with their new ‘Aetna Virtual Primary Care’ for self-funded employers and eligible members. Just in case you weren’t aware – Aetna owns CVS and is based out of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. This new innovative healthcare solution ‘reimagines the primary care experience’ and allows patients to access care from virtually anywhere. Their platform is powered by Teladoc Health. Hy-Vee grocery stores announced their new RedBox Rx service in December 2021. Based in West Des Moines, Hy-Vee’s virtual consultation and treatment services are to be powered by Reliant Immune Diagnostics’ mdbox virtual solution. Both solutions allow patients to see a medical provider from a smart phone, tablet, or computer from virtually anywhere.
There are nearly 10,000 CVS pharmacies across the United States. Of all CVS stores, California is home to 11% (or 1,176 of those 10,000 stores), Florida is home to 8% (or 871 stores), and Texas is home to 8% (or 847 stores). Hy-Vee operates grocery stores in more than 240 retail stores in the midwestern region of the United States. Their stores are located in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Healthcare organizations serving these markets need to identify how they are going to navigate these virtual healthcare challengers in their space. What sets your healthcare organization apart when it comes to providing access to virtual care? Who will your patients call first?
As Omicron cases surge across the nation, state and national conferences are again turning to hybrid and virtual solutions in an effort to keep patients safe, socially distanced, and prevent the spread of viruses. It’s highly likely your community is full of individuals working or participating in at least one virtual meeting a week. As these workers become more well-versed in accessing quality information remotely, will they be able to utilize those same tools for their healthcare?
Remember patients all over the country, your patients, will be seeking out quick and easy solutions when questions arise regarding individuals who develop coronavirus or flu-like symptoms and/or become quarantined through contact-tracing. How are you best supporting them? Is the call center fielding them, possibly the nurse on call, or maybe they are using Google? Wouldn’t they be best served engaging virtually with their local healthcare providers?
In many rural communities, it is the patients with commercial insurance who most often take advantage of these new virtual services being offered by companies like CVS and Hy-Vee. On average, those same patients also make up about one-third of a rural hospital’s payer mix. These are the patients that rural healthcare providers can least afford to lose if they want to remain financially viable over the next few years.
Brick and mortar healthcare facilities, especially rural hospitals in the states of Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the east-central parts of Kansas and Nebraska, that have a prevalence of both CVS and Hy-Vee stores, should pay close attention and act quickly to preserve their market shares and keep their patients. As the Executive Director of Telehealth Services for OPYS, Becky Sanders can help your organization identify the low hanging fruit to enhance your existing services lines, increase virtual services, and expand healthcare access for your patients and your community.
OPYS Physician Services is committed to addressing the pain points of our partners and offering solutions and services to meeting our partner’s needs, in person and virtually. Contact us to see how we can help preserve your market share in today’s ever-changing healthcare climate, while keeping your employees and patients safe from COVID and the coronavirus variants.
About the Author: Becky Sanders, MBA
Becky Sanders, Executive Director of Telehealth Services for OPYS Physician Services. Becky comes to OPYS with over nearly 15 years’ experience in rural healthcare and telehealth. She holds a master’s in business administration, with a focus on healthcare administration, as well as a LEAN Healthcare Blackbelt. Expect to hear more from Becky as she begins attending and presenting at various rural healthcare conferences throughout OPYS’s target markets. This includes the states of Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Washington, California, New York, and Florida. You can follow OPYS and Becky on our LinkedIn accounts.