Why the “Great Resignation” is Driving Physicians to Explore Opportunities in Telemedicine

Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a record number of workers left their jobs by the end of 2021 – 4.5 million to be exact – and that healthcare was among the top three industries impacted by the “Great Resignation.” A pandemic awakening for many individuals, and a pain point for many organizations, the Great Resignation has prompted employees to quit their positions as they reevaluate their careers and priorities. 

While healthcare is not exclusive in its struggle to retain its workforce, it is uniquely challenged because the pandemic itself dictates healthcare workers’ daily priorities and routines. Burnout and staffing shortages were issues before, but with new variants showing up, hospital staff is reeling from prolonged overwork. Some are looking for opportunities to lessen their exposure to COVID-19, while others are seeking better work/life balance and the space to take care of themselves and their families. 

More physicians are finding these opportunities by moving into telemedicine roles. Telemedicine has been an invaluable asset for patients and physicians for years, and although not for everyone, telemedicine is an increasingly valuable option that can help doctors achieve their personal and professional aspirations.   

Flexibility

For many, work has changed dramatically since March of 2020. Employees exchanged long commutes and water cooler conversations for home offices and virtual meetings; and while there were inevitably some challenges, having a more flexible schedule allowed them to find more of a balance in their personal life, finish projects around the house, and, for those with young children, be available for virtual school days. 

Traditionally, it’s unlikely that healthcare workers have been able to enjoy those same benefits, as embracing a flexible schedule can be challenging in an in-person hospital setting. That is why some have opted to embrace telemedicine opportunities. Telemedicine has given physicians the freedom to practice medicine from the comfort of their homes. Without full schedules or long shifts, healthcare providers can also enjoy the flexibility and convenience that working virtually delivers while still practicing medicine and treating patients.  

Safer Working Conditions

There is no question that telemedicine effectively limits patient exposure to COVID-19, whether in place of traditional in-person visits or a means of performing initial evaluations in a hospital setting. However, telemedicine also keeps doctors protected by avoiding direct contact with a COVID-positive patient. Through technology, providers can stay connected to patients and deliver care without being concerned about the stress of contracting the virus or passing it along to a loved one.

Furthermore, mental health concerns among healthcare workers have been a growing concern. The pandemic has, without a doubt, taken a toll on everyone, but healthcare workers have endured the majority of that burden. According to McKinsey & Company, burnout, grief, and loss are leading to a lack of motivation and driving workers to look elsewhere for employment. Telemedicine alleviates many of the stressors that doctors face daily by managing the load of dealing with overcrowded waiting rooms and allowing providers to have more focused, meaningful interactions with their patients.  

Fresh Income Opportunities

What the pandemic brought to patient volume varied significantly depending on the practice. While many hospitals dealt with overflowing waiting rooms, specialty providers saw a steep decline in patient visits due to stay-at-home orders and fear of exposure. According to the Medical Group Management Association, 97% of the 724 medical practices interviewed reported that COVID-19 had a negative financial impact on their practice, resulting in reduced salaries, diminished work hours, and furloughs. 

Telemedicine helps alleviate these concerns because it allows providers to treat more patients in a more organized environment. By easing some of the burden found in hospital waiting rooms, virtual physicians can handle the overflow of cases that may have otherwise been turned away. Telemedicine doctors are also flexible enough to address patient concerns outside of regular business hours and outside of their own city. In addition, telemedicine physicians’ salaries are on par with in-person providers and can sometimes earn more depending on their location.  

Every Provider Matters

Even before the pandemic, telemedicine was changing the way hospitals and doctors delivered care, allowing them to utilize technology to deliver better options for patients. What COVID-19 and the ensuing Great Resignation have unveiled is how telemedicine can also deliver new and maybe even better employment options for physicians. By offering more manageable schedules, allowing providers to see patients on their timeline, and offering avenues for financial gain, doctors, once again, can begin to feel more productive, focused, and valued. At VirtualMed Staff, we always welcome experienced and qualified physicians to apply to join our team. If you are looking to make an impact on your patients, your career, and the future of healthcare, find out more.

Amazon and Walmart Squaring off on Telehealth, Pharmacy, Connected Healthcare in 2022

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The celebrity cage match featuring Amazon and Walmart is carrying over into healthcare big time as the two retail rivals push further into health technologies, pharmacy and treatment.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) summed it up well in a recent blog post, saying, “If 2021 will be remembered as the great expansion of retail health care, 2022 is likely to be defined as the year of disruptor differentiation. The massive push by CVS Health, Walgreens, Amazon and Walmart to scale primary care services — in person, virtually and in some cases at home — rapidly took shape last year.”

Focusing on the two titans — Amazon and Walmart — they’ve been tracking each other’s movements in the sector with surprising sameness in specific categories like pharmacy and telehealth, but each has innate strengths, which they’re leveraging.

For Walmart’s part, it’s got the stores — close to 4,800 in the U.S. alone. That’s an advantage for pharmacy and walk-in retail health clinics that are proliferating partly as a pandemic response, and also due to rising healthcare costs and the promise of a less expensive doctor visit.

During its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings call on Feb. 17, Walmart U.S. President and CEO John Furner told analysts that healthcare is part of the chain’s own “flywheel” — possibly a dig at Amazon — adding “the health business was our fastest growing comp business in Q4.”

Among Walmart’s high visibility moves in healthcare, the company acquired telehealth platform MeMD in 2021 to strengthen its position with a connected and accessible “omnicare” model.

In a statement on MeMD’s acquisition, Walmart Health Executive Vice President, Health and Wellness Dr. Cheryl Pegus said, “Today, people expect omnichannel access to care, and adding telehealth to our Walmart Health care strategies allows us to provide in-person and digital care across our multiple assets and solutions.”

The company also partnered with electronic health record (EHR) systems provider Epic last year in an effort to “engage patients, health care professionals, insurance carriers and other stakeholders while enhancing communication, personalization and information sharing amongst health care professionals and patients utilizing a patient portal,” per a press release.

Amazon doesn’t have the stores, but it’s got the online scale and digital wherewithal to combine pharmacy, telehealth and devices into a connected economy approach to healthcare.

On Feb. 8, Amazon announced it is taking the Amazon Care telehealth platform from pilots to primetime with a national rollout to over 20 U.S. cities expected in 2022.

In its announcement, the company said, “Amazon Care is uniquely positioned to fill a critical gap in the health care system because it combines the best of virtual care with a new approach to in-person care. The combination allows patients to receive a wider range of care, from on-demand primary care to chronic care management, in the comfort of their home.”

By taking Amazon Care via the in-home route, and with Seattle-based Care Medical providing in-person visiting doctors, nurses and caregivers when needed, it’s the “disruptive differentiation” the AHA spoke of, manifesting in whole new modes of healthcare delivery.

Much of the battle between the nation’s two biggest merchants comes down to pharmacy and the ways in which the Rx experience is being streamlined and, to an extent, cost controlled.

Through its Walmart+ program, Walmart launched its ‘Rx for Less’ offering last year.

In a press release, Walmart U.S. Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside said, “We’re designing Walmart+ to be the ultimate life hack for our customers. It’s been our commitment from the beginning to continue to grow the suite of benefits we offer Walmart+ members. We know we can use our size and scale to help simplify things for our customers in a way only we can.”

A few months later, Amazon Pharmacy celebrated its first year in business, announcing in December that former Amazon Prime chief Neil Lindsay will lead Amazon Health, triggering media speculation as to how Lindsay might bring cross-pollination to its efforts in the space.

 

The Amazing Possibilities Of Healthcare In The Metaverse

The metaverse is a hot topic at the moment, and much has been written and spoken about its potential to revolutionize gaming, entertainment, socializing, work and commerce. Not so much has been said, however, about how it could affect healthcare – but this is another field where its impact could be transformational.

Firstly – for those who are still understandably confused – what is the metaverse? Well, the reason there’s a fair amount of confusion is that no one is quite sure at the moment, as it’s somewhat up in the air. What’s generally agreed on, however, is that it’s effectively the next version of the internet – one that will take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and ever-increasing connectivity (for example, 5G networks) to create online environments that are more immersive, experiential and interactive than what we have today.

Metaverse involves the convergence of three major technological trends, which all have the potential to impact healthcare individually. Together, though, they could create entirely new channels for delivering care that have the potential to lower costs and vastly improve patient outcomes. These are telepresence (allowing people to be together virtually, even while we’re apart physically), digital twinning, and blockchain (and its ability to let us create a distributed internet). Let’s take a look at each one of them in turn:

Telepresence

Known in healthcare as telemedicine – the provision of medicine as a remote service. This experienced a surge in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Before 2020, just 43% of healthcare facilities had the ability to provide remote treatment to patients. Today that figure stands at 95%. For routine consultations that don’t require a physical examination (or which can be carried out visually), doctors and nurses have found that they are able to more quickly and efficiently diagnose many of the minor conditions that make up the vast majority of their caseload via a telephone or video call. This will undoubtedly persist in the metaverse. However, virtual reality – a key technology that enables the next-level immersion that partly qualifies a platform or application as part of the metaverse – opens a whole new range of possibilities. Anyone who has tried it will know that headset-based VR experiences convey a far greater sense of “being there” than other virtual environments, such as websites, messaging apps, or social media.  

Telemedicine consultations, particularly through VR, mean patients are no longer limited to being treated by particular clinicians due to their physical location. If you’re in Europe and the best specialist to deal with your particular condition happens to be in India, you can effectively be in the same room simply by putting on headsets. Scans and tests can be carried out at a facility local to you, and the data transferred to the specialist, wherever they are in the world. It’s particularly useful in areas like China where there is an acute shortage of medical professionals, as well as for patients in remote regions who would ordinarily have to travel great distances to be seen by healthcare professionals.

Another area where it can be particularly beneficial is therapy. Environments can be personalized to individual patients – VR is already used by psychologists and psychiatrists in aversion therapy, where patients can interact with situations that cause them anxiety, in safe environments where every aspect of the interaction can be closely monitored and controlled.

Digital Twins

digital twin is a virtual model, or simulation, of any object, process, or system, generated using real-world data, for the purpose of learning more about its real-world counterpart. In the case of the metaverse, the digital twin could be of the patient themself.

Jack Latus, CEO of Latus Health – an online healthcare provider specializing in occupational health – believes that digital twins will eventually become “test dummies” for individuals that can be used to predict everything from how we will recover from surgery to the reactions we will have to specific medicines. This will come about through our increasing ability to map and understand individual genetics. During a recent conversation, he told me, “We’ll be able to fast-forward – so if we age this twin by ten years, based on these interventions we’re doing – how does this affect the twin?

“You start to almost be able to see into the future … we’ll see that this is the outcome we’re going to get if we follow this protocol for the next ten years.”

Blockchain Technology

Known to most as the technology which underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, blockchains are actually just distributed and encrypted databases that allow data to be stored and transferred securely in a way that no one except the data owner can tamper with. Many people consider them to be an important part of the metaverse concept because they allow for decentralized communities governed democratically via smart contracts, as well as a record of digital “ownership” of environments or even objects in the digital domain.

In healthcare, their most obvious use case is in the management and security of our highly valuable health data. At the moment, data is often shared between multiple organizations in a way that’s both inefficient and opaque as far as the owners of that data (us) are concerned. The fact that health records are usually stored on centralized servers means that our data is at risk of being stolen (the resale value of a single health record is said to be between $70 and $100 on the dark web). It also means that getting at it, even for those who have a legitimate need to access it – for example, a specialist who is treating us – is often a lengthy and laborious process.

As Latus puts it, “It’s clunky … you write to your GP, saying please can I have access to my records, then you have to sign a form, and you might get the records in 28 days, then you have to send them on … with the technology that’s available today that’s just ridiculous … it would be much more sensible for everyone to own their own records on a personal file on a blockchain. It’s unhackable … and with a click of a button, you can give consent to any clinician anywhere in the world to review your records.”

Convergence

The convergence of these core technologies in online environments – the metaverse – means healthcare professionals will be able to deliver more joined-up treatment programs and packages, unhindered by the siloed nature of much of the existing healthcare system. Swift information sharing between clinicians would mean that underlying causes of ill health could more quickly be established. Monitoring of patient activity in the metaverse means factors such as compliance could more easily be tracked, which would further assist with diagnosing and treating illness. Latus raises the example of a patient being treated by a physiotherapist for an injured knee.

“It looks like a purely physical issue, but if it isn’t getting any better, you have to look at the mental effects – why isn’t it getting better?”

It may turn out that due to depression the patient isn’t completing their rehabilitative exercises, and therefore, the physical injury isn’t going to heal. Offering treatment in a joined-up manner within virtual environments, with a new approach to data sharing, should make treatment of this sort quicker and more effective.

Virtual Hospitals

Another part of his vision that Latus shared for the future of healthcare is around the concept of the “virtual hospital”. This is a project that Latus Healthcare is currently developing and could become available as a service within 12 to 18 months. Essentially it comprises of a virtual reality hospital environment, accessed through a headset, where treatments will at first be focused around counseling and physiotherapy services. Physiotherapy will make use of computer vision – for example, using cameras to investigate the range of motion in damaged joints, as well as the progress that patients are making towards recovery. Latus says, “With VR and AR, we’re able to give them much better feedback on their process … for example someone with a shoulder joint issue, if that shoulder range of motion improves by three percent, as an individual, you probably wouldn’t feel that.

“But if you can get it reported back to you, you will actually see it working, and get a plan … if you improve at this rate, you can get back to normal in a certain number of weeks. From a motivation or compliance point of view … that’s going to have a massive effect. You have genuine data to back up the work you’ve been putting in.”

It’s clear that many aspects of healthcare delivery will be affected by the opportunities offered by the metaverse. There may be some hurdles to be overcome first, particularly around people’s attitudes to receiving treatment online or remotely – which may still be seen as a second-best or backup option by many. There are also questions around equality of access – VR headsets are not cheap, and if they are required in order to take part, it could be seen as further contributing towards inequality in access to healthcare. But these are issues that are likely to be addressed given time if the new generation of digital-first healthcare providers can successfully show that their innovation will lead to reduced cost and improved outcomes for patients.

You can watch my webinar with Jack Latus, CEO of Latus Health, here: