In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many medical practices saw a significant decline in appointments and revenues. Patients delayed both routine and urgent care in fear of contracting the virus. The Texas Medical Association reported 68% of practicing physicians in the state reduced their work hours due to COVID-19. Similarly, the Common Wealthfund found a 60% decrease in visits to ambulatory care practices across the United States.
Currently, in-person visits are rebounding across all specialties and practice sizes. The return to in-patient visits has been measured but is largely consistent across state lines.
Due to the increasing adoption of telehealth and virtual visits, physicians could see a return of patients for wellness, preventive, and chronic care. The Primary Care Collaborative and Larry A. Green Center recently reported that 35% of primary care patients indicated they were overdue for a wellness appointment. Another 32% were behind on preventative care, and 19% for chronic care.
As patients trickle back in—virtually or in-person—they’ll be helping to shape the current and future state of the internal medicine landscape.
How to Help Patients Return to Internal Medicine Practices
As patients return to in-person visits, the majority of hospitals and healthcare settings have changed how patients are greeted and checked in to ensure both adherence to CDC guidelines and patient safety.
For example, the utilization of waiting rooms has permanently shifted in the wake of the pandemic. Most physicians have removed extra chairs and added signage to indicate certain spaces are unavailable. Waiting room fixtures like brochures and magazines have been replaced by television monitors and video screens. Children’s areas have largely been removed. Face coverings and temperature screenings are required prior to entry. Many practices are utilizing hallways and other unoccupied areas to provide social distancing space. Patients are often asked to wait in their cars instead of waiting rooms, and visitors have been limited or restricted.
These new guidelines and resources are helping the majority of patients feel more comfortable attending in-person visits.
Internal medicine providers are also giving first priority to high-risk patients and those requiring chronic care when scheduling appointments. For many providers and patients, telehealth remains an effective tactic for providing care. A study by McKinsey found that more than half of patients (55%) were more satisfied with telehealth or virtual visits than in-person appointments. However, the same study found that 62% of physicians prefer in-person care over virtual stating in-person visits are more convenient and effective for providers.
Regardless, practices must continue to educate patients on how to best use new and changing services in the aftermath of COVID-19. “Primary care has really converted to a virtual specialty overnight,” says Russell S. Phillips, MD, Director of the Center for Primary Care at Harvard Medical School.
Finally, the development of the COVID-19 vaccine has helped many overcome hesitancy or reluctance to attend in-office visits. Additionally, many physicians are relying on patient portals and electronic health records (EHRs) to track and update vaccination status, enabling them to take proper precautions.
Leverage Technology to Navigate New Patient Care Demands
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, patient expectations were changing. With an increasing population of Millennials seeking healthcare, healthcare providers have had to incorporate smarter, faster, and more accessible ways of delivering healthcare. Patients also want more control over their healthcare. One study found that the majority of patients (61%) want to be able to access their medical records online, either through a patient portal or EHR systems. Furthermore, 4 in 10 respondents stated the pandemic made them more likely to support data sharing between providers.
EHR systems also allow physicians to cater to patient preferences surrounding in-person or telehealth visits. The solution enables physicians to access a patient’s entire medical history, add new notes and diagnoses as well as make referrals, write lab orders, schedule virtual or in-office appointments, and more.
EHR platforms also facilitate better patient care outcomes through quick, secure sharing of clinical data with the patients themselves and other clinicians. This will be especially important for managing referrals as patients return for in-person or virtual visits.
Likewise, physicians should be prepared for ebbs and flows in telemedicine usage. While the technology was used widely in the height of the pandemic, usage has ebbed as quarantines have lifted and CDC guidelines have changed. By investing in telehealth software, practices will be prepared to handle sudden shifts in demand such as during flu season or new COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Future State of the Internal Medicine Landscape
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Deloitte found that the following areas will transform healthcare:
- Data sharing
- Equitable access
- Empowered consumers
- Behavior change
- Scientific breakthrough
As traditional roles dissolve and new ones are formed, the future of the internal medicine landscape is being carved out. Hospitals and healthcare providers will continue to embrace new technologies in order to provide patient-focused care in a smarter, faster, and more cost-effective way. Providers who fail to do this risk becoming obsolete and irrelevant.
Even in the aftermath of COVID-19, many internal medicine physicians continue to search for ways to provide better patient care. At RXNT, we’re supporting physicians on this journey. We understand how vital the right tools are to the health of your practice and the satisfaction of your patients. With our full range of solutions, we’re able to provide you with the resources you need to navigate the current and future trends of internal medicine. Contact us for a free, no-strings-attached virtual demo.