The unprecedented nature of 2020 caused healthcare providers to accomplish things “just in time” or on the fly — but rushing to keep up is not sustainable over time. As we enter the second year of a global pandemic, healthcare providers continue to address similar challenges and embrace a more holistic approach.
At Vera, we certainly couldn’t have predicted a pandemic, and we're making a concerted effort this year to increase our planning and forecasting. We learned a lot in 2020 and continue to grow and evolve alongside our employees and patients as we navigate this new world together. Our goal, as always, is to provide great care for our members and help keep our care teams informed and sane.
To help us stay proactive, here are five healthcare trends we're watching as the year unfolds. I hope this information benefits you in your area of expertise.
1. Augmenting virtual services
2020 underscored the necessity of an omni-channel approach to care. Sometimes that looked like engaging members by phone, or text, or email, or a portal, or an app. Other times it looked like building relationships with patients across all of those channels. For healthcare providers who were outliers or who ran a small practice, discrepancies in reimbursements between virtual and in-person visits likely proved to be difficult to navigate.
Our model is different. Vera is value based and doesn't have submit-fee-for-service claims.
We were poised to meet the demands of 2020 because we never closed down our care centers. This helped us provide virtual and omni-channel services as effectively and efficiently as our in-person services. And that approach has not wavered (but we have more work to do).
2. Building meaningful relationships
We believe that meaningful relationships between patients and their care teams produce far better health outcomes. Developing new relationships was challenging for everyone last year but also more important than ever. Continuing our goal of meeting patients where they are and creating meaningful relationships prior to disease is vital to broadening our whole person care in 2021.
Healthcare providers must continue to build out their services in ways that suit peoples’ busy (and socially distanced) lifestyles. At Vera, we've always had capabilities to do phone visits and basic video visits before COVID-19 — but the likelihood of using virtual services were slim. Before the pandemic hit, we saw 80-85 percent of our patients at an in-person care center and then that ratio flipped.
It’s a lingering challenge for providers who find themselves less established in omni-channel care, because it’s really hard to start establishing relationships with members in a strictly virtual environment. But making that effort and using tools, including phone scripts or other prompts, to continue developing strong relationships with patients is essential, whether in-person or virtual.
3. Addressing disparities in health and care
The divide between an American’s health and their access to care is only widening. A number of different studies reveal this can be based on factors such as race, social demographics, and geography.
While technology like virtual care helped keep providers and patients safer throughout 2020, it also created a delivery system that was, and remains, more fragmented than before — and that creates additional disparities in health.
Vera patients are definitely in a better spot in terms of access to care than the general population — which in turn helps us provide healthcare that works for everyone, as we like to say. But we need to continue to expand our omni-channel services and membership base because these factors are so important when it comes to closing gaps in health and access to care.
4. Providing more mental health support
According to numerous studies, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the mental health of people across every age group. Isolation, economic insecurity, and the pandemic itself are just some of the most immediate factors driving nationwide increases in anxiety, depression, and distress.
We believe coaching is a crucial part of addressing patients’ emotional health needs, because health coaches have the time and resources to really get to know their patients and partner with them to achieve long-term health goals.
Health coaching has been an integral part of Vera care plans since day one, and our suite of mental health services continues to be one of the highest-utilized resources outside of acute clinical care. A patient's mental health is often related to their clinical needs, so providing a more holistic level of attentiveness under one roof (virtually or physically) is something we are continuously expanding and improving.
5. Expanding preventive care
After a year that saw providers hurrying to address unprecedented needs, shifting towards greater preventive measures will reduce the need for (and strain on) limited urgent care resources. It will also help providers reestablish a proactive, holistic approach to healthcare, and that supports foresight and planning for providers and patients alike.
At Vera, the focus has always been about prevention and sustainable behavior change, both for healthy patients and those with chronic care needs. For us, that looks like moving from a posture of “just in time” last year to being able to better anticipate member needs, whether it’s a physical point-of-care test, a preventive screening, a referral to a specialist who may have been closed last year, or a health coach to support lifestyle change.
Doing our part to create positive change
As we look at the trends developing in 2021, we’re investing in things like expanded virtual care and revamped health intake forms so that we can support our members more quickly through better sharing of vital information. We're also upgrading our virtual capabilities, rethinking pharmacy distribution, and looking at ways to manage some of our higher-risk patients (while helping them avoid unnecessary emergency room visits).
We believe our commitment to health coaching, longer appointments, and care coordination are foundational to supporting the health of our patients, and we look forward to seeing how other providers adapt to meet their patients’ needs in these demanding times.
If you’re interested to learn more about practicing in Vera’s Advanced Primary Care model, download The Secret To Delivering Primary Care — The Way It’s Meant To Be