Patient care in an ongoing pandemic: Challenges and solutions

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we braced for a few turbulent weeks, which has since evolved into months of uncertainty with no end in sight. No one anticipated the extended timeline or the effects it would have on the healthcare ecosystem, especially on primary and preventive care. Primary care practices (PCPs) continue to be burdened by the daily challenges caused by the pandemic. Visit volumes may be rebounding, but some populations are still deferring routine or planned care. Revenue is ticking northward again, but value-based care outcomes may be lagging. Preventive care is back at the forefront, but months of unmanaged conditions are catching up.  

Fortunately, there is good news. As primary care practices continue to weather the ups and downs of the pandemic, there are some solutions available to help them navigate these ever-changing tides. 

While some of the challenges PCPs faced early in the pandemic have faded into the background, others have emerged or settled to become a new commonplace element of patient care. 

Navigating telehealth

Challenge: In the first few months of the pandemic, stay at home orders and practice closures were widespread, resulting in a dramatic decline in patient visits. Providers experienced record-low visit volumes in March and April, with outpatient visits declining nearly 60% by early April. Telehealth boomed to address this unprecedented disruption to the healthcare system. A Phreesia report found telehealth activity peaked at 13.8% of total patient visits in mid-April. While the proliferation of telehealth was a game changer during the early days of the pandemic, it cannot replace the treatments and procedures which require an in-office visit—especially for seniors with several chronic conditions who may not have the ability to leverage telehealth technology.

Solution: Telehealth is a great way to extend the PCPs’ reach, but it’s not a panacea. Telehealth is an efficient and cost-effective way for providers to deliver certain types of care, address routine questions, and maintain patient engagement. It can also be part of a comprehensive strategy to improve quality of care and coding. Moving forward, a hybrid of both in-person and telehealth care will be needed to meet the needs of a practice’s varied patient population.  

Emphasizing chronic care management 

Challenge: The pandemic has precipitated a decline in in-person ambulatory care and, as a result, research suggests that there has been a decline in chronic disease management. Neglecting care management for chronic conditions has a domino effect, as today’s missed routine visit can lead to a future hospitalization. Performance on value-based care arrangements may also be impacted. 

Solution: Patients with chronic conditions must receive routine care to avoid an acute care crisis. The situation is especially critical for seniors, since more than two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries have two or more chronic conditions, which exacerbates the risks associated with COVID-19. To actively manage your patients’ chronic care conditions, providers should consider a combination of in-office visits, telehealth, and remote patient monitoring devices.

Creating patient engagement

Challenge: Even after the initial shock of the pandemic has dissipated, many practices remain short-staffed, resource constrained, and under considerable financial pressure. This has made it difficult for providers to maintain a high-level of patient engagement, which is difficult under the best of circumstances.

Solution: More than ever, PCPs must be vigilant about communicating with patients so preventive measures and routine care don’t fall by the wayside. Integrating new methods of communication with traditional outreach can help improve patient engagement and visit volume.

Treading unstable revenue

Challenge: While patient volume has rebounded for many practices, the impact of lost revenue remains a formidable setback. An October Primary Care Collaborative survey revealed that only one-fifth of PCPs said revenue is within 10% of pre-COVID-19 levels.

Solution: PCPs should be mindful of opportunities that improve their clinical and financial performance, such as participating in health-plan sponsored quality of coding and care initiatives. Risk adjustment has often been considered a problem only payers look to solve, but by implementing a quality of care and coding solution, providers can achieve many important and desirable clinical and financial benefits.

The Path Forward: A Turnkey Solution

PCPs need turnkey solutions to help them optimize their practices during these unprecedented times. Vatica Health’s solution leverages a team of expert clinicians and powerful technology to help you—the PCP—optimize outcomes and performance. Our platform is easy to use, EMR-agnostic, and designed for point-of-care use. The process is simple and won’t interrupt your workflow. 

  • Vatica provides on-site or telehealth clinicians who handle 90%+ of the work, so you can focus on patient care.
  • The Vatica platform synthesizes health plan, EMR, and patient-reported data to create a comprehensive view of the patient and applies advanced algorithms to facilitate enhanced diagnostic coding.
  • Vatica’s teams assist with patient engagement and administrative tasks. 
  • Post-visit, you review relevant codes and sign the Vatica encounter—all in less than 10 minutes.
  • Our team of AAPC CRC™ certified clinical coders review 100% of coding and documentation for completeness and accuracy.

At Vatica, we take our role as a PCP-centric solution provider seriously. We are dedicated to improving coding accuracy, quality of care, patient engagement, and ultimately your clinical and financial performance. We are prepared, and willing, to support your practice through this global pandemic and into the future.