Telehealth: Innovation in Practice at NYU Wagner

Healthcare has always been a fast-changing field, and healthcare leaders need to be adaptable, flexible, and knowledgeable to handle the innovation and changes that come with it. Programs like NYU Wagner’s Online Master of Health Administration can help healthcare workers build these capabilities through a rigorous, part-time curriculum designed specifically for working professionals—preparing them for the future, no matter how uncertain. Today, one such rapid innovation is telehealth.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth is the use of new technologies to provide healthcare across distances, through videoconferencing, phone calls, or other forms of remote communication. You may have heard of telemedicine, a subset of telehealth, and refers to any patient appointment conducted using telehealth technologies. Telehealth includes telemedicine but goes much further and can also include health-related training for professionals, healthcare education for patients, and public health administration. 

Telehealth, not surprisingly, has seen a tremendous rise in popularity during the COVID-19 global pandemic. According to Claire Celeste Carnes, a member of the Online MHA faculty at NYU Wagner, “The pandemic accelerated the interest and adoption in telehealth dramatically. The Veterans Administration, one of the largest healthcare providers in the nation, testified before Congress in June that their visits were about 2,500 daily before the pandemic and are at 25,000 daily now; that’s not just a doubling or tripling, that is ten times the previous number of visits.”

Changing behavior around healthcare is difficult and requires buy-in from numerous constituents, including providers, hospital administration, insurance companies and financial backers, legislators, and—of course—patients. The pandemic helped bring all constituents together to make telehealth effective. Citing a recent McKinsey report, Carnes notes, “There was a huge jump in consumer willingness and interest in using telehealth, from 11% to 76% interested. And, 64% of providers feel more comfortable with telehealth.”

Use Cases for Telehealth

While telehealth services have been a natural fit during the pandemic, Carnes doesn’t see it going anywhere once the crisis has passed. “When the emergency is declared over, Americans won’t want to—and don’t need to—go back to the pre-pandemic rules,” she says. “The genie is out of the bottle, and we’ve demonstrated that telehealth can be safe, effective, and convenient. McKinsey estimates that 20% of visits can be done virtually, which is about $250 billion worth of billings.”

In addition to providing patients and providers with a safe, socially-distant healthcare method either synchronously (with live video) or asynchronously (with images and messaging), telehealth can enhance patient outcomes. Carnes points to new examples at the frontiers of healthcare, including monitoring data for a better picture of patient health, using artificial intelligence to support clinical decision-making, or utilizing natural language processing to help with scribing.

The ability telehealth offers for patients to connect with providers is also top-notch. “One of the comments I’m hearing patients say is that telehealth ‘runs on time.’ We also hear that the doctor pays more attention to them than to the computer, in which they are presumably taking clinical notes. Telehealth may be challenging us to provide better, more patient-centric care, even when we do resume more routine, in-person visits,” says Carnes. 

Preparing the Next Generation of Healthcare Leaders

NYU Wagner’s Online MHA program prepares students for the opportunities and challenges that come with a long career in healthcare. The MHA curriculum focuses both on new technology, like telehealth, that students are likely to encounter in the workforce now and on building key capabilities for handling future challenges. 

For Professor Carnes, that means addressing telehealth head-on in her strategic marketing and communications course. “One of the first lessons is around marketing and communications’ ability to drive the strategic priorities of the organization,” she says. “For many of my students, increasing the rate of telehealth visits is a strategic goal, so we look at the ways to pull the consumer through the purchase process to select a telehealth visit. I like to challenge my students to think about the selection of a health system or provider from the point of view of the audience, like the patient, and what is important to them.”

More widely, Carnes finds ways to help her students think strategically in all they do. “In my course, students apply the concepts to their current worldview, such as their view of the strongest brand in healthcare,” she says. “Throughout the course, they develop a strategic marketing and communications plan for their current organization, which they could then use to sit down with an executive or the marketing leader to have a thoughtful discussion.”

Firsthand experience with online learning and platforms is an important skill for future healthcare leaders to learn. “Since this was designed from the onset as an online course, rather than a course that was in-person and moved online, I have some interesting and unusual assets to help the students get the concepts,” says Carnes. “We created two, day-in-the-life videos; we have infographics; the lectures are all self-paced; and I have YouTube videos that demonstrate some of the concepts—including the power of social media for good and bad.”

Students in NYU Wagner’s Online MHA program are motivated to improve healthcare: they are working full-time through a pandemic in already-stressful jobs, and yet, they readily engage with rigorous coursework in their program. Even before the pandemic, students faced challenges like implementing telehealth in a risk-averse, competitive environment. Throughout the program, they develop strategic thinking skills that help them lead organizations through immense change, building knowledge in a variety of areas across the curriculum. As Carnes says, “They are really to be commended because the world needs the strong, ethical leaders they are becoming!” 



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