At Kaiser Permanente, a Major Moment for Telemedicine

April 22, 2020

In this episode of One Quick Thing, Prat Vemana discusses how the healthcare system is responding to COVID-19. Vemana is the Chief Digital Officer at Kaiser Permanente. Before coming to Kaiser, Vemana was Chief Product and Experience Officer at The Home Depot. He was also a VP of Global Ecommerce at Staples.

Front-Burner Issues During COVID-19

When asked to identify the top priorities in the healthcare industry, Vemana pointed to digitally-enabled healthcare. “How do we actually make that experience super easy, super seamless, but very meaningful for patients?” He asks.

Vemana also shared the following questions that help his team determine their focus areas:

  • How do I create the most enjoyable healthcare experience in the industry and in the world?
  • How do we create a more immersive telehealth experience?
  • How do we create an omni-experience — both physical and digital — for healthcare?

Making Telemedicine Seamless for Patients and Practicioners 

According to Vemana, Kaiser supports telemedicine through four modalities. The first type of telemedicine is an “e-visit,” where a patient emails a physician or caregiver to ask a question. Patients can also talk to a healthcare practitioner over the phone. Video visits allow patients to see caregivers. An online chat provides a fourth point of connection.

“All four modalities are on fire,” Vemana says. “Prior to COVID-19, we probably had single digits or very low teens adoption [of telemedicine]… Now almost 80 percent of the care that [Kaiser] provides is through telemedicine and virtual care.”

According to Vemana, adoption of telemedicine is being driven by both caregivers and patients. “What it takes to enable…caregivers to be online to consult is the most…heavy lift,” he says. “If you imagine a stethoscope [that branches 100 ways, each branch] is a patient or member. The other side is [one] caregiver or the physician.” 

Integrating Wearables into Remote Care

Wearable devices that can help monitor patients can assist in providing more effective care remotely. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Kaiser worked with Samsung to supply smart watches to patients recovering from cardiac surgery. These devices ran a special app, and were able to send information to caregivers at Kaiser to help patients adhere to physician recommendations. The system also looked for anomalies in a patient’s health. “Usually the readmission rates are 13 to 15 percent in cardiac rehab,” Vemana says. “When we were able to fit the variables and get the data back…what we saw was it dropped to one to three percent.”

Vemana says that Kaiser is also testing solutions involving bluetooth-enabled thermometers and blood pressure monitors. This would allow physicians to provide routine care for patients who are at high risk of catching diseases while visiting a hospital.

What to Expect After COVID-19

When asked to share what the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic might look like, Vemana pointed to the increased importance of basic hygiene. In addition to washing hands, he also predicts that remote work practices will continue, and communication between distributed teams may be improved. “It is also bringing down walls in a different way… I can work across time zones, work across collaboration tools,” he says. “Keeping that momentum, and leveraging it, and giving the space for people who still need to have work-from-home needs, and help them continue that.”

Benefits of Telemedicine After Social Distancing

Even after social distancing is no longer mandated, Vemana says he expects telemedicine appointments will continue to be utilized. According to Vemana, remote appointments can help increase the accessibility and affordability of healthcare. Telemedicine can also help patients get connected to a practitioner more quickly. Vemana also says that a gradual reopening of services may also encourage people to attend remote appointments. “So, when you look at it from the gradual opening, I do believe that we will continue to see a higher level of engagement than what we saw pre-COVID,” he says.

This episode of One Quick Thing was sponsored by Captains of Innovation, CIC’s internal boutique consultancy. This full-spectrum corporate innovation program helps organizations develop innovative products, services, and technologies to remain competitive in today’s business climate.


Gauging the Telemedicine Experience

InnoLead asked webcast attendees what their telemedicine experiences have been like so far. Out of 153 respondents, 53 percent said that they had not had a telemedicine appointment, but would be willing to try it. The second largest group (31 percent) said they had experienced a telemedicine appointment, and that it was “about as good “as an in-person appointment.