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SCL Health was already building out its virtual care services and creating a strategy for reaching patients online when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
A $2.8 billion healthcare system in Broomfield, Colo., SCL Health launched a virtual visit platform called SmartExam from Bright.md in February, a month before the pandemic caused healthcare systems to shutter their doors to routine visits and elective procedures.
Using SmartExam, patients answer questions about their symptoms. The responses are then directed to the appropriate SCL Health provider who uses the information to diagnose the patient and provide a treatment plan. The entire visit is conducted online without video or audio components. Patients with common conditions such as the flu, colds, allergies or urinary tract infections can seek treatment through the platform.
"We'd already had work underway with delivering video direct to consumers and accessing our primary care providers via video," said Terri Casterton, senior director of innovation and virtual health at SCL Health. "The next step was how might we take video out of that conversation and start a conversation around care in other digital platforms."
In a talk during this week's American Telemedicine Association 2020 Virtual Annual Conference and Expo, Casterton laid out three lessons for building a digital front door strategy.
1. Identify problems virtual care can solve
Casterton said the organization set out to use virtual care to solve two main issues. The first was access to same-day care.
While SCL Health has eight hospitals and more than 150 provider clinics, Casterton said the organization doesn't have brick-and-mortar urgent care facilities. Virtual care was identified as a way to provide SCL Health patients a same-day option for care.
The second problem was provider burden and finding a way for providers to treat patients with common conditions that may not require a time-consuming in-person visit.
"Driving efficiency for our providers and giving them the tool set, the clinical models and business models in order for them to be able to take care of more patients with less time, in this case, was very important," she said.
Casterton said she began to search for a virtual care delivery tool that could address those issues and support the organization's overall strategy to build a digital front door that provided a suite of virtual services.
Terri CastertonSenior director of innovation and virtual health, SCL Health
2. Create a simple entry point to virtual care
Patients can access the organization's consumer-facing virtual healthcare services page directly from the SCL Health homepage. The Right Care page, as it's called, provides a short summary of the difference between an eVisit via SmartExam and a video visit and gives patients the option to choose how they'd like to interact with a provider.
Existing patients are then asked to provide their Epic MyChart credentials and are routed to their account. New patients are prompted to sign up for a MyChart account to complete their visit.
Casterton said having a simple entry point to virtual care services is critical to the telehealth tools' success.
"How people find those services and get guided to those services is an extremely important part of the business model and the user experience in general," Casterton said.
3. Learn what works for patients
Since launching the eVisit tool, SCL Health has relied on patient feedback to improve the patient experience, according to Casterton.
Initial feedback showed that 92% of patients approved of their SmartExam experience. The other 8% said the lack of direct interaction with a provider was not explained clearly. As a result, Casterton said SCL Health created specific prompts on the Right Care page indicating that the eVisit is not a video visit.
As SCL Health continues building out its digital front door, Casterton said it's important to remember that telehealth only works if patients can get what they need during the search process and the actual visit.
"Much of what we're doing with the launch of these services is understanding how do we talk about these services, what resonates with consumers, and how do we guide them to what they need in the moment," Casterton said.