Most specialty provider organizations (78% according to our survey—see Innovation Adoption Among Specialty Provider Organizations: The 2020 OPEN MINDS National Innovation Survey) are now providing telehealth services of some type. But now that the “emergency adoption” is over, how do management teams optimize those services? And more importantly, how do they leverage their newly expanded virtual capacity beyond therapy?
Those two questions were the focus of The 2020 OPEN MINDS Strategy & Innovation Institute session, The Convergence Of Technology & Crisis Management: Lessons Learned While Responding To A Pandemic & Planning What Your Organization Should Be Doing Right Now, with A.J. Peterson, vice president and general manager of CareGuidance at Netsmart; Matthew Arnheiter, senior vice president of innovations at Netsmart; and Uday Madasu, chief information officer of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. Like many executives I’ve spoken to, the speakers confirmed the changes in team productivity by moving to virtual. Mr. Arnheiter said, “We’ve seen an 86% decrease in no-show rates among the provider organizations we work with. What happens when you make it really easy and convenient to press a button or dial a number to join a session? People tend to keep those sessions. This data offers an interesting view into the future if you start to look at how you can manage your client populations via a virtual experience and how you can engage individuals in a different way.”
So, what are the keys to optimizing telehealth operations? Mr. Madasu presented a great case study of this work at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (Jewish Board). Headquartered in New York City, the Jewish Board provides comprehensive emotional and behavioral health services with a wide range of programs including therapy, care coordination, and residential and supportive housing. With over 75 locations and 3,000 employees, the organization supports over 40,000 individuals and families each year across the five boroughs of New York City. Over the past few years, the organization began undergoing its digital transformation, which, as Mr. Madasu discussed, served them well once the pandemic crisis hit. Pre-COVID-19, the Jewish Board utilized telehealth to solve staffing shortages and logistical issues related to travel, with just 10% of services provided virtually. Over the past eight to 10 weeks, the Jewish Board was able to quickly pivot to 100% virtual care by leveraging telehealth best practices.
His advice for assuring that virtual operations are effective and efficient? Addressing security and compliance issues, integrating other virtual platforms with the electric health record system, and improving workflows. For security and compliance, a core IT infrastructure is necessary to prevent data breaches and protect consumer health information. For Mr. Madasu’s team at the start of the pandemic, the initial focus was on making it easy for staff to work from anywhere using virtual desktops. However, the focus quickly shifted to the more technical aspects of managing anti-virus, firewalls, and content filtering once the pandemic forced the network to be extended beyond the Jewish Board’s 75 locations to every staff member’s home. To further support the transition, the organization also implemented formal IT protocols clearly stating how staff can protect their own information and protected health information (PHI), as well as conducted cybersecurity exercises for executive leadership, senior staff, and program staff to prepare for a potential data breach. As Mr. Madasu reinforced, the need to develop a strong strategy built on a compliant, secure platform—now—will only add to organizational efficiency and sustainability in the long-term (see Using Your Data Security Investment To Build Value and Is Your Executive Team Ready To Pay A Cyberattack Ransom?).
The other big issue for effective virtual operations is integration with current data systems—including altering workflows and leveraging best practices for optimal EHR functionality and interoperability—to stay ahead of the competition post-crisis (see 10 Steps To Get Your Telehealth Game On For A Post-Crisis Era). Working with an EHR that is not integrated with other organizational platforms can cause a lot of administrative inefficiencies—and a lot of unnecessary stress. Given the large volume of staff and clients at the Jewish Board, there were significant challenges surrounding scheduling and billing, as well as inefficiencies stemming from manual data entry across multiple systems. After EHR integration, clinical workflows were more streamlined, making it significantly easier for front office staff to collaborate with health care professionals (and a lot less switching between and minimizing windows) even despite no longer operating in the same office.
But when implementing new technology, addressing issues with day-to-day operations quickly is key and as Mr. Madasu noted, “requires thinking very differently about best practices.” In the transition to telehealth, outlining any changes to administrative workflows and procedures for all staff (including clinical professionals, administrative staff, and senior leadership) was a necessary part of training as billing and documentation requirements changed with the new service delivery model. Ensuring all staff are trained and engaged in the process, with clear policies and established procedures to follow, is critical for compliance and long-term success (see 4 Keys To Make New Tech Work and Are You Strategically Interoperable?). Although the future landscape still remains uncertain, I thought Mr. Madasu’s predictions were on point, “Clients are going to demand that we continue to provide virtual services and staff are going to demand flexibility in how they are able to work. We are going to have to rethink everything that we have done in the past.”
The other very interesting discussion in the session was Mr. Peterson’s presentation of the wide number of use cases for virtual care capacity in the health and human service field. His list of diversification options included:
- Services in skilled nursing facilities – providing assessments and on-demand behavioral health services
- Emergency room triage services – providing on-demand access in emergency departments for psychiatric evaluations for individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis
- Screening services for opioid dependency – supporting individuals with opioid use disorder in emergency departments or intensive care
- Jail diversion programs – remote assessments and “virtual ride-alongs” with law enforcement officers through smartphones and tablets
- Remote patient monitoring programs – adjunctive assessment and therapeutic services to these automated services
During the presentation of these use cases, I had two takeaways. First, there are many opportunities beyond therapy for management teams to leverage telehealth capacity—providing opportunities for diversification of customer revenue. The second was that “virtual” offers a new and rich tool for care coordination and the operation of health homes and specialty medical homes. Telehealth has the potential to allow the care team to follow the consumer anywhere—from their home to any situation in the community. As Mr. Peterson highlighted, “This has finally allowed provider organizations to drive their virtual care strategies forward, not only giving them the surge they need in the short-term but also allowing them to look at a longer-term strategy as we believe telehealth is here to stay.”
With a growing proportion of health and human service interactions happening virtually, the challenge for management teams will be to go beyond therapy—and leverage virtual capacity for better market positioning. For more on differentiating your services with virtual capacity, check out these resources in The OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- The Altered Telehealth Landscape: Where Are We Now?
- Telehealth—Not For Everyone
- Telehealth—Be Careful What You Wish For…
- Go Virtual To Keep Your Consumers (& Your Revenue) – Resources You Can Use
- From Crisis To Growth: A New Leadership Mindset
- How Culture Makes Organizational Change Less Painful
- Finding Opportunity In Adversity: Leadership Lessons From The COVID-19 Crisis
- You Operate Virtually, You Serve Virtually, But Are You Marketing Virtually?
- Can We Learn From This? 12 Steps For Leaders To Manage Beyond The Crisis
- How The Coronavirus Pandemic May Bend The Demand For Behavioral Health Services
And for even more, join us on July 16 at 1:00 pm EDT for the web briefing, Preparing For Post-Disruption Resilience & Sustainability – Taking Action For The Long Term – An Overview, led by OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Joe Naughton-Travers, Ed.M. The web briefing is offered as part of The OPEN MINDS Executive Blueprint For Crisis Management: Building Organizational Sustainability & Success In A Disrupted Health & Human Service Market, designed to help executive teams navigate the business, organizational, operational, and culture changes of a market in turbulence.