“We live in a very digital-savvy market. As we looked at our overall digital strategy, we knew there was a large segment of the population who wanted 24/7 access to physicians for immediate care needs, and we wanted to offer a platform to engage with those patients.”
Deb Laughery, VP of Marketing at WakeMed
Case Study Highlights
WakeMed increased overall virtual encounters by 400% by reducing barriers to patient access during COVID-19 peak period.
Increased Patient Access
Leveraging Data Feeds
New patient records for each virtual encounter are created and synced to WakeMed’s EHR system using a C-CDA feed between RelyMD and their EHR vendor, EPIC.
Extend the Team Capacity
WakeMed uses RelyMD’s team of community-based providers to staff the 24/7 service. Through the partnership, WakeMed can count on low wait times and experienced providers without extra burden on their busy staff.
Care Coordination Powered by RelyMD
WakeMed worked with RelyMD to develop specific care coordination maps to help patients who need additional care. RelyMD providers direct patients to the best place for next steps including primary care, orthopedics and even COVID-19 testing facilities.
An Existing Partnership
In addition to virtual urgent care, WakeMed uses RelyMD to care for employees on the WakeMed benefits plan and to extend virtual care to partnering homeless shelters in the area.
WakeMed | Community Virtual Health Success Story
WakeMed Health & Hospitals is a health system that has been serving the greater Raleigh area with healthcare services since 1961. WakeMed has over 9,700 employees across its 3 acute care hospitals, 3 stand-alone 24/7 emergency departments and more than 80 outpatient and physician office locations in the region. WakeMed is set in the heart of a dynamic, fast-growing market and a medically strong ecosystem – with an impressive range of healthcare options and nearby healthcare organizations, including Duke Health and UNC Health Care.
Prior to launching WakeMed Virtual Urgent Care, only established patients could access virtual appointments with WakeMed primary care physicians using their My Chart account through Epic. However, limited appointment times, limited physician availability, and patient expectations for immediate care left the system needing more. They just weren’t set up or staffed to offer 24/7 access to virtual urgent care.
“We live in a very digital-savvy market,” said Deb Laughery, VP of Marketing & Communications at WakeMed. “As we looked at our overall digital strategy, we knew there was a large segment of the population who wanted 24/7 access to physicians for immediate care needs, and we wanted to offer a platform to engage with those patients.”
Not only would an on-demand program provide their patients with easier access to care without the need for appointments, it would open up availability for a patient acquisition strategy.
“This isn’t a replacement for existing telehealth components with our primary care physicians,” added Laughery. “It’s an extremely beneficial add-on and a great entry point to the WakeMed system when urgent care is needed. It’s all about access and meeting our patients where and how they need us, making the healthcare experience easier for everyone involved.”
With the aim to provide the community with a valuable, sustainable and robust virtual health program, WakeMed partnered with RelyMD in December 2018 to initially offer the telehealth service to employees enrolled in the WakeMed health plan, which is self-funded. RelyMD worked with WakeMed to build a white-labeled platform to make the service on-brand and to create an EPIC integration and C-CDA feed for patient continuity that also allows the health system to track patient acquisition and referrals.
Within 30 days of signing with RelyMD, WakeMed was marketing the service to employees and qualified dependents. Through both digital and in-person campaigns, RelyMD and WakeMed worked together to spread the word and engage employees to encourage use of this new service. The first six months resulted in a utilization rate of 4.2% and helped reduce healthcare spend for WakeMed employees by $480,369.
By initially offering telehealth to its employees, WakeMed was able to ensure that the program was working and provided all of the components and access envisioned.
Bringing RelyMD to WakeMed
Launching to the Community
After fine-tuning the employee-facing program, WakeMed was ready to go public by providing the virtual urgent care service to anyone statewide. Launching this service increased new patient acquisition and drove downstream revenue by creating a referral funnel for patients who required follow-on, in-person care immediately or even weeks or months after the virtual encounter.
WakeMed Virtual Urgent Care was available to the public for six months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. During those first few months, utilization rates gradually increased through the fall of 2019 and into cold and flu season. This service was also provided at no-cost during Hurricane Dorian (September 2019) for N.C. residents in need or who were unable to travel during the storm.
In early 2020, as news about the coronavirus became more widespread, healthcare facilities across the world noted a change in patient patterns and nearly every heathcare provider and health system postponed all non-essential, non-urgent appointments and surgeries.
In response to COVID-19, WakeMed launched its “CareNow” campaign on March 6, 2020. As part of the campaign, WakeMed offered reduced rates for WakeMed Virtual Urgent Care services, from $45 to $15, in effort to limit potential exposure to COVID-19 from or to community members and to help protect the safety and well-being of patients and staff.
“We initially saw a significant decrease in in-person visits, much like hospitals and physician practices throughout the country,” said Laughery. “However, the number of telehealth visits skyrocketed.”
With RelyMD on board and the existing expectation of increased call volumes with COVID-19, WakeMed Virtual Urgent Care saw an even higher spike in visits than anticipated. In those 90-days of the “CareNow” campaign (March 6 to June 1) , WakeMed’s utilization rate of the Virtual Urgent Care service spiked at nearly 400% higher than the previous average.
“While we wanted to provide a lower cost option to our community in a time of uncertainty and need, we truly believe the increase in virtual visits had very little to do with the reduced cost but safe access to care. We were ready at a time when people wanted to stay in the comfort of their own homes; it was a tremendously important for us to offer a safe space – whether in-person or virtually – during a challenging time,” Laughery explained.
Due to having an established program, WakeMed was well-positioned to virtually treat patients remotely during coronavirus pandemic; however, even when cases subside, the organization isn’t planning on putting it on the back burner – and neither are patients.
Prior to COVID-19, common conditions treated virtually by WakeMed Virtual Urgent Care were sinusitis (23.0%), respiratory infections (20.2%), urinary tract infections (UTI) (12.6%), eye disorders (6.0%) and flu-like symptoms (5.0%). These five top medical conditions remain frontrunners marking the importance of the service beyond coronavirus screenings.
And, after the cost-per-consult returned to the standard rate, WakeMed’s Virtual Urgent Care service continues to see patient usage at double what they were prior to the pandemic, pointing to the fact that people are now more comfortable with virtual care options. According to Laughery, WakeMed’s own market research affirmed that the community is far more inclined to use telehealth today than before the pandemic.
WakeMed is located in North Carolina, a state that does not currently provide telehealth parity. Since March, North Carolina has been granted reimbursement opportunities providing an even greater ability to reduce costs and drive revenue. Learn more about RelyMD’s Community Virtual Health solution that provides your organization with a managed, hands-off approach to offering a successful, fully integrated, and revenue-generating telemedicine service – that is fully reimbursed by payers.