3 ways virtual capabilities transformed global health care

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been full of challenges and opportunities in the field of global health care. And nowhere has that been more apparent than with the adoption of telemedicine and virtual care delivery. No longer are health care models reserved only for those who can physically access services.

The latest issue of the UnitedHealthcare Global Clinical Journal highlights some of these transformations at the ground level. Although there have been obstacles in navigating this new digital world, the changes and innovations that emerged can be a strong foundation for the future needs of patients.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we previously built health care models within geographic constraints,” said Dr. Bernie Elliott, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Global, in the introduction to the journal. “We allowed landscapes and borders to dictate who had access to care. Our care models must adapt to support the needs of globally mobile populations.”

Here are three examples — out of many — in which these lasting transformations have changed the landscape of person-centered health care.

1. Creating a support program for mothers with COVID-19, after delivery in Chile

Neonatal postpartum care certainly has its challenges in the midst of a pandemic. And when the mother tests positive for COVID-19, those challenges may increase. A phone-based support program for mothers was developed to help provide care, monitoring and timely intervention for the first 14 days of the baby’s life. In one case, these services helped a 12-day-old baby receive emergency care for breathing abnormalities, where it was determined the child had COVID-19 due to a transmission from an asymptomatic mother.

2. Managing complex and high-risk patient needs through virtual health tools in Brazil

For the Amil hospital system in Brazil, 12% of hospitalizations were due to chronic conditions in 2019. With this patient population in mind, Amil trained a team of virtual case management nurses to help manage the needs of those with a high utilization of health services and a lack of care coordination. Their care included everything from telenursing visits to monitor conditions, home visits by doctors and nurses and a 24-hour call center for patients. Early results indicate a reduction in medical costs of roughly 25% and reduced inpatient admission by nearly 48%.

3. Using teleconsultation services at Clínica San Felipe to support patients in Peru

The outset of the COVID-19 pandemic put a complete halt on outpatient services in Peru. The face-to-face model of care prevalent at Clínica San Felipe would need to be altered to fit the reality of COVID-19. The need for change was met with heavy uncertainty from patients and doctors in the shift to a digital model. Moreover, the team faced constant changes in the emerging regulations on telemedicine. After two and a half months of planning, the team launched a new teleconsultation service. From June to December 2020, the clinic reached over 6,400 patients and addressed concerns with an expanded support staff and 39 medical specialties. And what’s more, patient satisfaction with the teleconsultation was near levels of face-to-face visits.

What these three examples — and many others discussed in the Global Clinical Journal — show is that health care requires nimbleness and a desire to shift paradigms when circumstances suddenly change. Telemedicine became not just a tool but a clinical necessity. Being open to that kind of creativity and innovation itself points a way forward for better care access, enhanced experience and improved health outcomes, no matter what new challenges might arise.

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