Hospital Execs Eye Expanded Virtual Care and Streamlined Platforms in Years Ahead A new survey from Amwell and HIMSS Analytics sheds light on postpandemic strategy and planned investments in telehealth at hospitals and health systems

The pandemic hasn’t left much room for long-range planning. Hospitals and health systems spent much of the past year in a state of emergency, grappling with shuttered clinics, staff shortages, taxed ICUs, and other day-to-day crises. Telehealth proved to be a lifeline, but for many organizations that meant launching and scaling telehealth solutions as quickly as possible to meet the overwhelming need. The focus was on speed, not strategy.

Now that the dust has begun to settle, healthcare providers are taking stock of the wins, losses, and lessons from their experience with telehealth during the first wave of COVID-19. To shine a light on this stocktaking and the future direction of virtual care, Amwell and HIMSS Analytics asked more than 100 senior executives at hospitals and health systems around the country about their postpandemic strategy and their planned investments in telehealth.

Survey Respondents at a Glance

The online survey was fielded in July 2021 and included C-level executives and other decision-makers and influencers from a diverse mix of hospitals and health systems.

Most survey respondents said they expected to expand virtual care at their organization, by adding new telehealth capabilities or by investing in related hardware, equipment, and infrastructure. Even more important, their responses expressed a strong desire to consolidate the numerous platforms and systems now in use for telehealth and digital care into a single, integrated whole.

More than half of all hospital and health system leaders are planning to increase their investment in virtual care.

The average IT budget disclosed in the survey was $6.2 million, with some large health systems topping out above $15 million and smaller stand-alone hospitals reporting budgets of under $1 million.

Overall, 56% of the respondents said they plan to increase their investment in telehealth solutions and virtual care over the next two years. Staff training and support, telehealth for specialty care, and hospital at home capabilities were all among the needs cited by the respondents.

Investment in Virtual Care

What is your organization’s anticipated strategy for virtual care over the next two years?”

Healthcare providers are using 3 to 4 platforms for digital care, on average — and some are managing far more.

The hospitals and health systems represented in the survey are using an average of 3.45 different systems or platforms for digital care experiences, including telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and patient engagement.

Number of Platforms Used for Digital Care

How many systems/platforms is your organization currently using to support digital care experiences?

Platform sprawl is especially acute at larger institutions. Roughly 1 in 6 integrated delivery networks and 1 in 5 academic medical centers reported using eight or more platforms for digital care.

For telehealth, the vast majority of organizations want to move in the opposite direction — toward a single integrated platform.

Among the decision-makers and influencers currently using two or more platforms, 77% said moving toward a single, secure telehealth platform that is fully integrated with other systems (such as the EHR and compliance systems) is “very” or “extremely” important for their organization.

Importance of a Single Telehealth Platform

How important is it for your organization to have the ability to use a fully integrated single telehealth platform?

Roughly 1 in 6 respondents who supported a single platform flagged potential blockers or concerns, including the feasibility of EHR integration (11%) and cost (5%). But the overhelming majority (85%) — citing benefits such as streamlined implementation, training, vendor management, and data collection — said a single platform would have a large and positive impact on the organization.

As one respondent put it, consolidating platforms “would provide a better, efficient process, as well as a better patient experience.”

A single platform, added another, “would be a game-changer.”

These findings are drawn from an ongoing series of surveys commissioned by Amwell and conducted by HIMSS Analytics. Additional insights from payers, clinicians, and the healthcare providers surveyed above will be released in September 2021.