Asynchronous solutions can improve access to care, reduce administrative burden, and help health systems thrive.
It looks like 2023 is shaping up to be another transformative year for the health care industry, and the value of a digital-first approach to care has never been more clear. Health systems are rethinking how they approach virtual care delivery, keeping in mind both age-old problems such as cost, provider burnout, and patient access, as well as newer ones such as changing patient expectations around how and where they receive their medical care.
One way to address all these challenges is to implement an asynchronous telehealth solution, allowing quality care delivery without real-time interaction between a patient and their provider. The industry has been doing a version of this via secure messaging for years, but that has been extremely burdensome for providers – and some would argue has been a major contributor to provider burnout in this country. Advances in asynchronous care technology, however, offer hope that this care modality could provide a solution to many of the difficulties that today’s health systems are facing. Here are three core benefits asynchronous telehealth brings to the table – and how it’s transforming care overall.
Too often, patients find it difficult to access timely, high-quality medical care. Reasons for this can range from high costs, lack of transparent billing, and long wait times, to lack of transportation, inability to take time off work, and language barriers. Asynchronous solutions can break down many of these barriers by allowing patients to get care for common low-acuity conditions when they need it, where they need it. It begins with a patient-initiated, dynamic digital interview about their symptoms in their preferred language. This can be done on a laptop or desktop computer, a tablet, or, most commonly, on a mobile phone. Once complete, interview responses are forwarded to a provider who can either treat the patient asynchronously or escalate the patient to a synchronous care modality when medically necessary. On average, patients wait less than 10 minutes between submission of their interview responses and receipt of a diagnosis and comprehensive treatment plan. Information about cost is shared with the patient upfront and is often less than that of a traditional co-pay.
And, unlike video visits that may offer the convenience of care outside of a traditional brick and mortar setting, asynchronous visits do not require a broadband internet connection. Only a 3G connection is needed. This is particularly helpful in rural areas where access to care is limited not only by geographic distance, but also lack of high-speed internet.
Physicians nationwide continue to experience overwhelming levels of burnout. According to a new study by the American Medical Association, 68% of today’s physicians report experiencing signs of burnout – a drastic increase from the 38% reported in 2020. Some contributing factors include staffing shortages, inefficient workflows, difficulty navigating EHR interfaces, and the residual toll of the COVID-19 pandemic – not to mention the hours of documentation and administrative work that providers face on a daily basis. A recent study showed that providers are spending an average of 4.5 hours a day in EHRs, taking time away from not only direct patient care, but also their personal lives.
We already know that asynchronous solutions automate the process of taking history from a patient, but they can also help alleviate the burden of everyday administrative tasks for the provider. This includes generating a chart note from the patient’s clinical interview responses and creating relevant after-visit summaries. There is very little, if any, manual charting required. As soon as the provider signs the auto-generated chart note, the patient receives a link to their after-visit summary, and prescription medications, if needed, are sent directly to the patient’s pharmacy of choice. And with seamless integration between the EHR and the asynchronous platform, the chart note is filed to the patient’s record without any further action needed by the provider. And, clinical decision support within asynchronous solutions ensures that providers are following the most up-to-date clinical practice guidelines while maintaining provider autonomy, keeping the clinician in control of diagnosis and treatment.
Because of changes due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers now have so many more self-service applications that make their day-to-day lives easier – and health care is no exception. In fact, patients are no longer just patients, but consumers of health care. As this landscape continues to evolve, it’s becoming even more critical for health systems to examine how they attract consumers, retain patients, and improve the patient experience.
A study by Bright.md found that 64% of patients want to receive some, most, or all of their health care virtually or online in the future. To effectively boost patient volumes and drive loyalty, health systems need to revamp how they incorporate virtual solutions into their care strategy. Patients want to feel in control of their care and be able to seek convenience where possible. Implementing asynchronous solutions can help systems actively meet evolving patient expectations and deliver an experience that keeps them coming back for future needs. The competition for low-acuity care is fierce, but by having their own asynchronous solutions, health systems can remain a step ahead.
The benefits of asynchronous telehealth are clear: improving access and convenience for patients, providing efficiency and reducing administrative burden for providers, and reducing cost while retaining patients for health systems. And, while most current applications of asynchronous care focus on common low-acuity conditions, there is promise for other applications as well, including pre-visit interviews, management of chronic conditions, and integration with other digital tools like remote patient monitoring. Asynchronous care does and will continue to play a vital role in the future of virtual care delivery.
Christina Chen, MD, is senior medical director at Bright.md, where she oversees the development of new clinical content for the Bright.md platform. She is also a board-certified physician trained in family medicine.