For hospitals and health systems intent on thriving in the emerging consumer-based healthcare landscape, a broad-based and encompassing focus on acute care needs is a must. It's critically important that we step into our communities to meet patients where they are—wherever they are. This renewed and frankly refreshing focus on patient-centered care will continue to de-emphasize physical practice locations and even our own narrowly focused specialties with which we as clinicians have long identified as we deliver care to our communities.
Some healthcare modalities have thrived over the past year as a result of their adoption of virtual care—mental health appointments and urgent care consults, for instance. But for the most part, acute care remains entrenched in our traditional physical spaces. Even our specialty names are tied to a specific geography— "emergency department" physician and "hospitalist." To meet the increasingly complex needs of our patients, we must expand our mindset to focus on how we’re delivering acute care to the patient—not necessarily where it's being delivered.
An inflection point in care delivery
Hospitals are not going away. Since the very first hospitals were built, they have been a critical organizing principle for complex communities to serve the ever-changing health needs of our evolving communities. Today, hospitals still serve an irreplaceable function for acute care needs—and the 2020-2021 pandemic won't alter that.
However, we have a convergence of consumer preference for convenience and the ability to actually meet patients where they are with virtual and hand-held technologies that were science fiction only 20 years ago. Clinicians and health systems must think outside traditional silos and even the hospital walls in our new convenience-centered world.
Since many primary care and outpatient clinicians have heavily invested in virtual care and feel quite comfortable with the technology, their patients have quickly grown accustomed to the virtual visit. But what happens if a patient actually needs acute care but settles for booking outpatient care because of its supposed convenience? Needless to say, patient outcomes would suffer.
Embracing a mind shift as providers
The first step in changing this dynamic begins with us as individuals identifying with what we do rather than where we do it. One example of this new paradigm in action is the hospital-at-home model. To expand inpatient capacity during the pandemic, health systems and the hospitalists within them are delivering an inpatient level of care to patients in their own homes and skilled nursing facilities. They are providing superior care continuity while challenging the traditional view that acute care happens only in hospitals.
Another example of care innovation is virtual follow-up for discharged patients. This alleviates the need for patients to physically return to a care setting for routine follow-ups for certain conditions and could lead to greater post-treatment adherence and reduced rates of bounce-backs and readmissions. The result is optimized and more integrated patient care that delivers on both quality and convenience.
Virtual care is just one tangible model that brings us into those communities with relative ease and agility—but only if we're ready. As our healthcare delivery system realigns and reimagines itself after the acute phases of the pandemic, now is the time to invest in a new vision for the future. Patient-centered care starts in our hearts and minds, and we joined this noble profession to help those most in need—in the communities where those needs most arise.
To learn more about trends driving the transformation of care delivery, click here.
About the author
Gregg Miller, MD, is chief medical officer at Vituity, a physician-owned and -led multispecialty partnership of 5,000 doctors and clinicians across 450 practice locations and nine acute care specialties. He provides leadership in risk management, quality, continuing medical education, CMS performance, patient experience, operations flow, and data management. He is also a practicing emergency physician at Swedish Edmonds Hospital near Seattle, WA.