COVID-19 Put Virtual Health Care to Test

Dave Moore, Staff Writer

While it’s unclear how COVID-19 will play out in this chapter of world history, one answer has become clear to Nick Reddy, Chief Digital Officer and Senior Vice President of Information Systems at Baylor Scott & White: people are ready for virtual health care (or, as others call it, telehealth).

“We just ran the biggest virtual health experiment in the history of the universe in the last month,” said Reddy. “It’s not something we planned for, but we essentially solved a problem for our community.”

It was as much an experiment as it was a trial by fire for the virtual health care team at Baylor Scott & White.

Prior to COVID-19, the health care system’s app – MyBSWHealth – historically screened an average of 3,000-5,000 patients per month. In March 2020 alone, it screened more than 100,000 people.

That’s a population equivalent to the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, who were concerned enough about COVID-19 to download the app and to answer screening questions. Responses are fed into artificial intelligence, which then indicates to users the likelihood of whether those being screened have the virus, Reddy said.

Reddy said that the crush of demand for virtual health care in a few weeks amounted to a crash course in the subject. And the technology met its promise – it allayed unnecessary fears, while assisting in preventing the further spread of COVID-19.

“The premise of containing any virus – including the novel coronavirus – is to make sure we socially isolate the virus, so the spread does not happen as rapidly as it could,” Reddy said. “That… model that has been pretty well established. If you don’t do that, it starts turning into an uncontrollable global pandemic.”

Even before the outbreak, two forces set the stage for advances in virtual/telehealth, said Reddy, and Steve Love, President and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council.

First, state and federal legislation have become less constrictive, allowing easier access. Second, people became more familiar with virtual technology through Skype, Facetime, and other virtual experiences in recent years.

“The use of telehealth has increased over the past six to eight years,” Love said. “I think some of it was regulation change, but it is becoming more acceptable.”

Another important development is that while some insurance companies didn’t reimburse claims for telehealth services, now most do.

“Now I think they see the value of it,” Love said. “In the long run, it can be a tool to bring down costs, and it’s an effective (health care) tool.”

As acceptance and use of telehealth has continued to grow, the number of providers in the virtual space has increased as well. Other DRC partners working in telemed/virtual health include: