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Multichannel Healthcare

It’s not just telemedicine, but phone calls, video calls, and apps as well. As things stand now, the future for healthcare companies seems bound to transition toward what is commonly known as “multichannel” service provision. 


“Multichannel,” a term that comes from the world of marketing, refers to when a company uses different touchpoints, channels and tools (online and/or offline) to interact with consumers. As far as healthcare is concerned, in practice a multichannel system involves moving from a single (physical) service provision channel for all patients to myriad channels for each patient. 


The Covid-19 emergency has accelerated the transformation and innovation processes which to some extent were already underway prior to 2020. For years now, in fact, digital tools were on the agenda (or at least some additional options for delivering medical care beyond traditional ones). But it was only with the onset of the pandemic and consequent need to bridge the physical distances forced on us by the emergency that we saw telemedicine being introduced. Indeed, as a service provision channel, telemedicine is most often listed among the various innovative experiences.  


Generally speaking, when we talk about multichannel systems in healthcare companies, we need to ask ourselves some questions regarding four different areas. 


The first is technological: choosing not only which platforms and software to adopt, but also how to feed the informational flows that are needed to enable physicians to visit patients and provide healthcare remotely. Also essential is figuring out how to integrate difference digital tools. Examples here include wearable devices which are fundamental to the multichannel concept in healthcare, since many of these tools serve several functions simultaneously: diagnosis (glycemic index, blood pressure, etc.), therapy (dosing a drug or activating a software program), and monitoring (tracking the effectiveness of a given therapy). These functions are (or could be) handled more effectively by creating huge databanks that allow healthcare providers to compare hundreds of thousands of patients, with the help of artificial intelligence systems. 


The second is the formal aspect:  coming up with a new lexicon and new digital taxonomy. (For example, what does “digital health” mean? How is it different from “digital medicine”?) And ensuring that service provision through new channels is compliant with the norms on privacy. And establishing adequate remuneration (in terms of fees) for services provided remotely rather than physically.  


The third is the clinical plan. Here the first thing to do is to determine the patient targets that are most appropriate for utilizing new channels such as telemedicine. Then, we need to decide what stages in the progression of a pathology or which aspects of a given health problem to focus on. Finally, we must establish when – under what conditions – healthcare providers need to meet with patients personally.  Just as the physical healthcare offering does not necessarily guarantee that access is fairer, exactly the same is true for virtual healthcare. We can only assess the appropriateness and fairness of access if we know and profile the patient population. No less critical are questions regarding updating diagnostic and care pathways (PDTAs), which rarely center on telemed visits or teleconsultations) and establishing a code of practice for telemedicine.    


Lastly, but not least important, is the managerial aspect of telemedicine. Providing healthcare services via digital channels means rethinking how work is organized (a multichannel system by definition implies a multi-disciplinary and multi-professional approach), reorganizing the back office, coordinating managerial transformations in order to preserve a seamless offering and shoring up connections with other services in the healthcare and social network. 


“Multichannel” does not mean substituting one channel for another. Instead it requires the capacity to gradually adapt to the needs and expectations of different targets (for instance, diverse groups of chronicity). It means allowing patients to choose the most appropriate channel, but it also means being proactive in directing them toward the most useful channel. Upstream, this should also include patient involvement in designing and continually adapting different channels for service provision, collaboration among professional healthcare providers, and the ability to listen to patients. 

The multichannel approach is only useful if it allows us to transition from an approach in which patients move toward healthcare structures, to a model in which knowledge can be brought to patients, in whatever condition they may find themselves. 

Our digitalization experiences also represent a powerful tool for knowledge generation, knowledge accumulation & management, and knowledge sharing. This also means that the effectiveness of a multichannel system is contingent on medical professionals accepting the fact that the multi-knowledge condition will not detract from their power (professional, organizational and economic). Quite the contrary, thanks to this condition it will be possible to multiply the system’s sustainability, and its capacity to respond to patients’ needs.  

Despite the fact that “multichannel” is the most common term we use to describe the experiences and the perspectives outlined in this article, to be more precise today we should say “cross-channel” service provision. This refers to the combination of channels for delivering healthcare to the same patient, choosing the most appropriate one on a case by case basis. The next step in innovation would be to adopt what’s called an “omnichannel” approach. In other words, the synergy among various channels should constantly integrate around the patient, because the databank of patient information is shared system-wide. As things stand today, this would seem futuristic, but why not aim high, especially in light of the role that digitalization plays within the framework of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR)?