Telehealth’s growing popularity is changing how a wide range of specialties deliver care, and health systems are rushing to launch telehealth services that promise to scale access while reducing costs. But systems continue to implement telehealth models that are disengaging, friction-filled, unfamiliar, and worst of all, inequitable. This suboptimal experience not only turns patients away from telehealth but also widens disparities in patient care.
New York City Health + Hospitals (NYC H+H) is the largest public health system in the United States, serving more than one million patients annually across New York City (NYC). It has 11 acute hospitals, 39 primary care practices, and 5 post-acute/long-term care facilities. Their health plan, MetroPlus, offers low-cost health insurance to over 500,000 patients.
In March 2020, NYC H+H launched its virtual urgent care service, Virtual ExpressCare, to provide virtual urgent care to patients while their ED’s were closed due to Covid-19. The service enhanced patient experience for all their patients and did so equitably, as it was built around those from the most vulnerable communities. NYC H+H accomplished this through three strategies: selecting a telehealth vendor whose offerings matched their patients’ needs; removing unnecessary steps at each stage of the pre-visit pathway; and structuring their staffing model so the new experience felt familiar.
To date, Virtual ExpressCare has treated over 35,000 patients and holds a 95% patient satisfaction rating. The service improved access, with 20% of all treated patients being new patients to the system. Virtual ExpressCare prevented over 2,300 avoidable ambulance transports to hospitals. In addition, the service’s staffing model led to increased engagement and top-of-license practice.
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