Virtual care is here to stay: here’s how you can make it inclusive

Mother holds up and kisses her baby

COVID-19 has overloaded the healthcare system and upended access to care. But as restrictive rules about care delivery have been adjusted to fit this new reality, the healthcare community has a chance to usher in a new, more inclusive future of care, one in which virtual support plays an increasingly important role.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 30% of prenatal care has been modified or cancelled, while a 215% increase in planned home births, and 70% drop in children vaccines, indicate that regardless of care modifications, people are opting to stay home to avoid in-person visits. Increasing access to virtual support services is the only way health plans and employers can get ahead of the fall out from COVID-19, and beyond.

The notion that increasing access to virtual support can improve health outcomes is not a new one. Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, Founder and President of The National Birth Equity Collaborative, has long envisioned a future of medicine in which access to providers, social support, and case management is all possible virtually. She’s been fighting to provide virtual care to under-resourced communities for years. Concern about how virtual settings could impact care quality historically obstructed virtual care delivery, but now, providers are opening virtual options, and they’re finding that in many cases, virtual care is just what the doctor ordered.

Reimagining care delivery through virtual care

As the healthcare community begins to reimagine care delivery, Dr. Crear-Perry notes that we must be extremely thoughtful to avoid deepening or perpetuating inequalities. This begins by investing in and designing accessible, inclusive programs. Inclusivity is essential, especially today, as Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be asked to modify their visits. Simultaneously, 61% of Black women report that their modified visit covered less information compared to a normal visit. ¹

Virtual support is a key pillar of inclusive care. By prioritizing and investing in virtual support, the healthcare community has a chance to center the experiences of individuals who are unable to access traditional forms of care, rather than retroactively incorporating these perspectives. And still, even as we normalize virtual support, we must expand the definition beyond video calls to include asynchronous chat with providers, self-monitoring functionality, appointment reminders, and fetal movement tracking.

As Dr. Joia Crear-Perry reminds us, it is essential to meet people where they are. This will require patience as widespread comfort with virtual care delivery increases, but one thing is clear: the days of episodic care delivery are over.

Three important takeaways

1. Virtual care and support is not one-size-fits-all

As the pandemic has reinforced existing barriers to in-person care, it has also demonstrated the importance of providing preventative care across various channels. The most impactful virtual support options are built around individual needs and preferences, providing access to clinical education, local and virtual providers, and social support. Solutions that include remote monitoring, health tracking, adherence, and educational tools to meet individuals where they’re at — quickly — and prevent adverse health outcomes are the future of equitable care.

 2. Patient advocacy through clinical education must take a front seat

Empowering patients with accessible clinical education is more important than ever before. With limited in-person care options, it has become essential that patients feel empowered to take control of their health, and for their health plans and employers to provide solutions with the tools to enable them to do so. To ensure positive clinical outcomes as we shift to virtual settings, members need access to personalized clinical information that resonates and considers social determinants of health as well as culturally-relevant support.

One of the biggest opportunities for growth here is mental health support. Mental health support is increasingly important as the pandemic exacerbates existing challenges. Effective solutions encourage members to take control of their mental and physical health and empower them to advocate for themselves in their personal lives, in their communities, and to their healthcare providers.

3. Conduct an assessment of your organization and prioritize trainings

Finally, ask your organization to look internally. In order to fundamentally shift the way the healthcare community thinks and works, it’s imperative that organizations address the ways they perpetuate inequalities and that they commit to weaving accessibility and inclusion into organizational goals. Host racial equity trainings and look for solutions that are actively addressing inequalities with tools that make an impact: clinical education, resources, guidance, and social services. By offering trainings and by committing to creating a more equitable company culture, you also encourage organizational leaders to sustainably shape a more accessible and inclusive future.

For more information on building an equitable future, download our webinar with Dr. Joia Perry

Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, Founder and President of The National Birth Equity Collaborative, joined Ovia Health in June for a critical conversation on the current state of birth equity, how changes in our healthcare system due to COVID-19 threaten to impact communities of color, and what health plans and employers can do to mitigate and prevent adverse outcomes. You can download the complete webinar here.

  • For more information on what health plans and employers can do, download the webinar with Dr. Joia Perry here.
  • To learn more about Ovia Health’s social support services and access to community care networks for employers, click here.
  • To learn more about Ovia Health’s social support services and access to community care networks for health plans, click here.

¹ Ovia Health survey data