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As the health care industry continues to navigate through challenges in an uncertain and rapidly-evolving landscape, we’ve learned that what worked a year ago may no longer make sense in today’s socially distanced, shelter-in-place environment.

Changing consumer needs — and expectations — have dictated many of this year’s latest trends, reflecting an urgency for safe, convenient, and affordable high-quality care in the right setting, at the right time. From expanding virtual care through emerging technologies to designing new benefit and coverage solutions, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated innovation in our delivery models and changed how people can access care.

Adoption of telehealth

Providing alternatives to the in-person provider visit is the largest trend this year. In addition to 24/7 nurse advice lines and virtual video visits from a computer or mobile device, we’ve also seen wellness checks, chronic disease management, and mental health services all go virtual.

With telehealth services being widely adopted in the marketplace, high quality, around-the-clock care is more readily available to those who might not otherwise have access. Sutter Health alone has expanded its telehealth services from serving 20 patients per day just a few months ago to serving more than 7,000 patients virtually per day.

Telehealth is not only helping protect individuals and communities from the spread of illness, but it can also be a convenient, cost-effective alternative to traveling to an appointment or urgent care center when appropriate. Additionally, patients report preferring meeting doctors and clinicians from the comfort of their own homes, and according to a study from Harvard Business Review, 74 percent of patients reported that they felt telehealth visits actually improved their relationship with their doctor.

A virtual-first approach to care

Whether working from home while helping kids with distance learning or living an on-the-go lifestyle, recent trends show that people want flexible alternatives to the traditional primary care model that fits their busy schedule and considers all aspects of their physical, emotional, and mental wellness.

An example of this is Tera — a virtual-first care model that gives patients access to a primary care physician (PCP) and a dedicated care team through video visits, phone consultations, email messages, or in-person visits when needed. This coordination of care is backed by a fully integrated network of hospitals and providers who use the Sutter Electronic Health Record to instantly access and securely share critical health information with other Sutter clinicians, allowing them to deliver care that’s personal, safe, and highly coordinated.

Convenient online resources

In this digital age, consumers have come to expect complete online connectivity when accessing health care resources. Organizations and health plans are meeting this demand by offering 24/7 access to online self-service portals for scheduling appointments, paying bills, printing ID cards, viewing documents, and corresponding with a care team.

Mobile apps take customer service and convenience to the next level. For example, Sutter Health’s My Health Online app offers users the ability to message doctors and care teams, schedule appointments and sign up to get text messages if earlier appointments become available, book a video visit with their Sutter PCP and some Sutter specialists, find a nearby walk-in clinic, or enjoy contactless check-in all from their mobile device. In most areas, users can also request renewals of their prescriptions and have them delivered right to their doorstep.

Individuals who have a health plan through their employer that encourages virtual access to new and innovative models of care may more proactively manage their health. This, along with access to a fully integrated network of care, will help keep them healthy and productive — and improve your bottom line.

Sutter Health Plus, a provider-sponsored HMO affiliated with Sutter, is uniquely positioned to give employers and their employees in Northern California comprehensive access to high-quality care that is safe, personal, affordable and accessible. Reach out to the sales team for help finding the right health plan during this year’s open enrollment.

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