My former former employer (that's 2 jobs ago) initially embraced remote work. It made sense -- they're a major telecom…
Sachin Agrawal, MSc is CEO of EVisit of Mesa, AZ.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I’ve been in healthcare consulting and software for 20 years, always focused on the enterprise needs of hospitals and health systems in areas such as revenue cycle, physician network alignment, quality and safety, et cetera. I joined this business about six or seven months ago and took the CEO seat on January 1.
We are network-agnostic virtual care operating platform, primarily for large operators of physician networks and all the professionals that surround them. Typically hospitals and health systems and sometimes significant category leaders in other healthcare delivery categories, but mainly focused on the underpinnings of operating virtual care for these big healthcare delivery orgs.
How would you describe the virtual health technology marketplace?
It is asymmetric in terms of how I’ve seen other HCIT markets operating. It was forced upon everybody, but from the perspective of providers, it was forced upon them for obvious reasons. But it not one that evolved from the critical foundational needs that hospitals and health systems have.
As a result, a lot of health systems are picking their heads up, now that we are a few years out from the onset of the pandemic, and saying that they were forced to drive a modality that has been disruptive to their core operations rather than additive in all the ways that they need to be, given the economic climate. I was surprised by that as an outsider. I understood the needs of the providers well, but as an outsider from virtual care coming in, I was surprised by how much of the evolution of the market, from an intelligence perspective, has remained at the surface level despite the tremendous utilization that we saw the past few years.
Providers didn’t have a choice about implementing virtual visits as the pandemic started, but some brought in telehealth companies that use their own medical staff. How are heath systems valuing telehealth’s value to their brand or as it relates to their other services?
This is a head-scratcher for me. It’s puzzling to have seen hospitals either promote the utilization of those networks or let those virtual-first networks promulgate and post up in their back yards. That goes everything that I’ve learned about what complex healthcare delivery organizations are trying to do, in terms of raising the bar on quality and safety, balancing fee-for-service reimbursement with value-based reimbursement, looking at network leakage and network integrity, and things like that.
The common denominator across all those topics is that hospitals and health systems have been focused on tightening their networks, clinical integration, physician practice alignment, and increasing M&A to employ clinicians. I look back on that and it’s puzzling, because in a lot of ways, it’s the antithesis of all those things.
Hospitals and health systems are picking their heads up and saying, this is not aligned with the Quadruple Aim. We need to do something about it in the medium to long term, but we also have to figure out how to engage with those networks in an appropriate manner in the short term, because going cold turkey is challenging in this labor environment and in this cost environment. There’s a tough needle to thread for healthcare delivery organizations. They are talking to us all the time about how to thread that needle.
How has the patient and provider experience changed as telehealth has moved from a quickly implemented solution to a permanent strategy?
The impetus during the pandemic was to take what was inherently meant to be a brick and mortar set of clinical protocols and a brick and mortar operation and just virtualize it. I’m quite explicit about painting the difference between virtual and digital care. Virtualizing care is what we just talked about — what organizations had to do. Now the industry is at its inception of the next chapter, which is to digitize aspects of care that they otherwise didn’t have the time to think about – design, change management, organizational buy-in, and things like that. That impacts how service lines themselves in a world where you can be digital first. It impacts who’s doing what in terms of top-of-license activities versus bottom-of-license activities. It impacts where people fit.
I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about the pandemic when clinicians were still going into their offices, obviously socially distanced, and doing virtual visits out of the office. That’s not what the promise of virtual care was meant to be. Virtual care itself needs to go through this digital evolution while obviously honoring the systems, processes, and workflows that are in place, many of which are focused on clinical satisfaction, safety, and things like that. I don’t think there needs to be a revolution, but a thoughtful evolution that we’re just at the beginning of now that we’re picking our heads up post pandemic.
How do virtual care needs vary by specialty?
Significantly. I’m excited to see the data around providers leveraging their own networks and clinical protocols in a virtual way to drive similar, if not better, quality and safety outcomes et cetera. It’s great to see the early data on that. What’s needed going forward is both the complexity and the opportunity of going from virtual care to a digital evolution as use cases expand.
As you go from urgent and primary care up the ladder to things with higher acuity and higher complexity, there could be device dependencies. There could be wearable dependencies. There could be group consultation needs and things like that. Importantly, you need to go from just a provider-to-patient relationship to potentially many providers per patient relationships, or many providers to many providers type relationships to drive complex consultations. That ecosystem, in terms of the need to create connectivity and to do that process and service line that I’m talking about, is going to be underpinning unlocking additional value from virtual care efforts.
What are some telehealth best practices that can help physicians work at the top of their license, such as pre-visit chats and triage?
That is part of an important broader question around what we can do to alleviate the burnout issue and the turnover that happens, which then impacts the high cost of recruiting, credentialing, and privileging clinicians to get back on the front lines. I’m reminded of a story of a customer who is the middle of digital reengineering as opposed to just virtualizing brick-and-mortar care. They are one of the more progressive institutions that I know of in the country, a Top 15 health system. They measure very carefully evening pajama time, where clinicians come home after busy day, spend time with their families, and then most likely after hours after kids are down and settled in, they are logging right back into the EHR and doing complex charting. It’s because they had this backlog as they went about their visits throughout the day.
This is a critical piece when it comes to the top-of-license question. Pulmonologists didn’t go to school for decades to sit at home in their pajamas doing charting. This could be impacted on the front end through the intake process, the virtual triage process, and the asynchronous process where patients can assume more ownership. It should happen throughout the process as well, in terms of removing the barriers to documentation and charting. Then on the back end, the integration into the leviathan health systems, power health systems like EHRs and revenue cycle.
I think of it as the underlying need for integration throughout the process — beginning, middle, and end — to drive down things like evening pajama time. This institution would tell you that, as they have seen a drop in that based on digital re-engineering, they can directly tie that to a drop in turnover and therefore in recruitment and backfilling costs. It’s a KPI that they are looking at carefully, which is the promise of digital as opposed to sticking to your brick-and-mortar workflow and hoping for the best.
What do you expect to happen with telehealth when the public health emergency ends on May 11 and rules and payment policies go back to the early 2020 world?
It has significant implications. There’s a reason why pre-pandemic, the system was largely averse to some sort of a national credentialing or privileging approach, or even a cross-state credentialing privileging approach. First and foremost, we’re probably going to go back to life as we knew it before the pandemic from that perspective. That puts a significant accountability right back onto health systems to do credentialing in multiple states and cross-state privileging and things like that, which is a huge lift. They are already dealing with significant resource turnover. Just keeping up with the credentialing and privileging activities in their home state is drowning them. I think we are going to see a consolidation of where providers are able to practice virtual care. The other thing this will highlight is the need for those higher-acuity use cases that you are talking about.
Even within state borders, we’re going to see a greater separation of access to care. This is all driven by social determinants of health, access to specialists and subspecialists. Health systems will have an accountability. They’re going to have these key resources largely aligned with them, the subspecialists, that they need to find a way to liberate their time to cover a broader swath of a population even within a state. It’s going to beg the critical questions of how to re-engineer our processes to digitize that so that we can have our most important resources go further at the top of their license.
What changes do you expect to see in the next few years that will affect the company and the industry?
We have set up our company’s strategy to align directly with where we think the industry is going. I’ve been around the block in healthcare and I’ve seen platform categories come up over time. Usually these platforms are filling a critical void that exists between the core hospital systems, some of which I’ve mentioned — scheduling, EHR, revenue cycle, and digital front door if that comes into maturity. There’s a gap between what those core systems do and how to re-engineer care or to drive the efficiencies and to drive quality and safety standards up.
For the industry, as the dust settles on a pure outsource model to virtual networks and things like that, and there’s increased focus on how to we assume command and control of this as a health system, the industry will need a platform layer. I’ve talked to many CIOs and CMIOs in the past six months, and two of them from Top 10 health systems have described this as a need for a middleware to integrate in and out of the core systems, to author workflow, and to ensure that those workflows are being set up for the right people to do the jobs at the top of their licenses.
That’s a complex set of needs that needs a dedicated approach. That market will have plenty of room for participants, because the needs that it addresses are going to be significant. Of course we at EVisit are setting up our strategy to be one of the emerging leaders in what we believe is going to be a really exciting category in healthcare delivery.