The U.S. healthcare system is in the midst of an enormous transition.
Traditional fee-for-service models are being replaced with population health based approaches, bringing new attention to the importance of care coordination, wellness, and prevention.
The population continues to age, creating an increasing demand for care, while provider shortages continue in many geographical and functional areas.
Collaborative video technology tools offer solutions for delivering healthcare in today's challenging environment, ranging from clinic scheduling to discharge planning to chronic disease management.
Video collaboration tools allow healthcare organizations to extend video interaction to anyone with a laptop and a Web browser.
Interactions that may have once been attempted over the phone or via email can now take place face-to-face, with the help of easy to use software applications. Care can be provided regardless of the location of either the patient or the provider, with a richness that surpasses that of other methods.
The ability for a provider to lay eyes on a patient allows for a more complete assessment than could ever be done by phone. In addition, patients may be calmer and more alert when they are in the comfort of their own homes instead of an unfamiliar medical office, and are often able to better participate in the interaction.
In the outpatient setting, the benefits of video collaboration extend well beyond patient interaction.
Nurses can see patients via video within moments of their calls, resulting in faster, more effective triage-keeping those same-day "squeeze in" appointments to a minimum and the clinic on schedule.
Similarly, patients who have difficulty making transportation or other arrangements to get to the clinic can be seen via video in their home, reducing no-shows dramatically and freeing up appointment space for patients who must be seen in person.
In the hospital setting, the advantages of video collaboration tools are just as varied.
For example, discharge planning benefits from the opportunity for rich and convenient interaction that video-based tools provide. They allow an entire care team, including the discharging clinicians, the patient and their family, the patient's referring physician, and other support professionals to discuss the discharge care plan.
When care transitions are planned with this degree of collaboration, compliance with a discharge plan is easier for patients, providers and families.
An unexpected decline, new symptom or other development noticed by a visiting nurse, physical therapist, or any other member of the care team can be easily and quickly shown to a nurse or physician. Early evaluation can be conducted either in an outpatient setting or via video in the patient's home.
The video-supported collaborative approach allows complications to be handled early in their course -without the need for rehospitalization.
Unnecessary rehospitalizations, which are increasingly not reimbursed, represent a significant financial burden for hospitals. They also have a negative effect on the quality of life for patients and their families. They interrupt the path to healing and the resumption of normal daily activities, and put patients at risk for hospital-acquired infections and other complications.
A technology known as predictive analytics can be used to asses a patient's rehospitalization risk. Using sophisticated algorithms and a vast amount of patient data, including EMR records, physician notes, nursing notes, discharge summaries and echocardiogram reports, predictive analytics determines a numerical score that describes a patient' readmission risk.
A patient with a low readmission risk may simply be scheduled for a few at-home video encounters for follow-up. A patient with a higher risk may be given home monitoring equipment and evaluated via video every day. A patient with a very high risk may be not be discharged at all, or may be transitioned to a skilled nursing facility until their readmission risk score drops.
By examining the scores of all patients at discharge, healthcare providers can make better decisions about how resources are allocated across a population of patients. It may never be feasible to do daily follow-up video calls or home monitoring with every discharged patient, but predictive analytics ensure that these extra sources of support are provided to the patients who are mostly likely to benefit from them.
Chronic disease management requires frequent interaction with patients, and is another use for video-based content management tools.
When delivering a new chronic disease diagnosis, providers can encourage patients to become immediately involved with the management of their disease by providing a customized set of educational videos, tailored to the patient's condition, needs, and capacity.
These videos, which are much more engaging than the written material traditionally provided in physician offices, can be viewed by the patient at home as often as necessary. They can also be shared with family members and other caregivers who will play a role in supporting the patient.
When behavior and lifestyle changes are required for disease management, family awareness and education become crucial. Video content management brings rich sources of education to the patient and their entire support team.
Wellness and prevention programs for chronic disease patients can help them adhere to diet and exercise goals, medication regimens, and other treatment plans. However, patients with mobility or transportation challenges, or who live in remote areas may find it difficult to locate and regularly attend these support programs. Even patients in urban areas may find that the programs near them are oversubscribed.
Group-based collaborative video conferences allow patients and providers to overcome these difficulties and engage with support groups from their own homes. The rich interaction of one-on-one video interaction extends easily to groups; participants can observe and hear a facilitator and other participants, as well as contribute themselves.
There are a number of additional applications for home-based care as well. For example, a visiting nurse who sees increased inflammation at a wound site can seek advice from a more specialized practitioner while she is still with the patient.
A video interaction allows a remotely-located specialist to not only see the wound but also speak with the patient, both to collect history and provide treatment instructions. Because each visiting nurse needs assistance on small fraction of patients, a single specialist can support many of them, from a convenient and fixed location.
The devices that support video based collaboration are increasingly portable and inexpensive.
Providing patient care or meeting with colleagues via video no longer requires going to a specially equipped room or wrangling equipment carts.
Any laptop, tablet or smartphone can become a video endpoint, allowing patients and providers to take advantage of video collaboration using devices they are already comfortable with, are accustomed to having close at hand, and can carry with them wherever they go.
Effective collaboration is the cornerstone of providing high-quality, financially feasible healthcare in the modern era. It is increasingly critical that providers deliver care to patients as efficiently as possible, to keep acuity and complications low. Simultaneously, it is important to make the best use of every licensed professional, ensuring that they all work fully within their scope of practice but have access to specialists when needed.
Collaboration within the care team is equally important, particularly during care transitions, but also during the management of chronic disease.
Video-based collaboration tools support patient examination and team interaction at a distance, allowing triage, diagnosis and treatment planning to take place whenever and wherever it is needed.
Ron Emerson is Global Director of Healthcare at Polycom, a global leader in open, standards-based unified communications and collaboration solutions for voice and video collaboration.