By Miles Collins, Manager

Contributions by Casey Lapham, Associate and Christina Speros, Analyst

It’s no secret that the adoption of virtual care, or telehealth, has been accelerated to the forefront of today’s healthcare conversations – for both patients and providers alike.

Chances are, as a patient you’ve experienced one of these virtual visits in 2020, and as a healthcare provider you’ve almost adapted to these as part of your daily schedule.

Healthcare systems across the US have quickly adapted and deployed online care through specialized applications or consumer-grade products like FaceTime – mobile apps we once thought were only for keeping up with loved ones who live across the country are now being used to visit with our physician who’s just across town.

While healthcare systems may be focusing virtual care efforts on basic clinical uses, larger systems should be considering the wide variety of use cases available and tune into the development of quality management for extended services.

The telehealth market is expected to grow 19% compounded annually in the next 6 years. Virtual visits in 2020 alone are expected to reach one billion. With this in mind, it is critical that our hospitals and clinics have a virtual care plan in place to support these changes – because telehealth is here to stay.

It is critical that our hospitals and clinics have a virtual care plan in place to support these changes – because telehealth is here to stay.

Making the Case

Less Chance of Contamination

Virtual care helps reduce the risk of anyone who is sick from spreading their illness to others by accessing a physician from home. Many hospitals are adapting to meet the concerns of COVID-19 by segmenting in-person and virtual visits. For example, focusing on sick in-person visits in the morning and addressing well patients and virtual visits in the afternoon. These types of efficiencies and changes in process can help providers manage their practice and protect employees and patients alike.

Self-triage and Screening

As the popular adage goes, you can now “Do it Yourself” for health improvement. Additional technologies that support virtual care are increasing in popularity and capabilities. These technologies include self-triage and screening tools which can help mitigate the surges in demand for care and provide a priority system for critical patients. Popular usage includes using consumer grade devices to capture vitals at home ahead of visits and/or filling out questionnaires within an online/mobile application. Traditionally, this information is gathered via paperwork in waiting rooms. However, overall patient satisfaction increases when one gains the ability to complete the screening and check-in process at their leisure ahead of the visit.

Provider Benefits

Telehealth Drives Down Overhead and Increases Efficiency

Like any area of healthcare, there are cost considerations when investing in new technology or expanding services. Telehealth is no different; however, it also brings several opportunities to offset these costs in the form of efficiency. Despite the uncertainty and changes in reimbursement amounts from both private and public payers alike, healthcare systems can recoup costs by attracting more patients with convenient care and reducing no-shows. Telehealth reduces the waiting room size, optimizes practice efficiency, and enables flexible hours. In many cases, patient satisfaction has shown to be higher when virtual services are offered, which in turn helps providers compete in their local market.

Telehealth Reduces Patient No-shows and Expands Base of Care

By reducing barriers of travel into a facility, no-show rates improve. One study found that no-shows cost the U.S. healthcare system more than $150 billion a year and individual physicians an average of $200 per unused time slots. Virtual care visits reduce costs for providers as they endure overhead costs whether a patient shows up or not. It makes visits easier for patients by providing flexibility and reducing time needed to take off from work. Ultimately, this technology allows any type of provider, from individual practices to large hospitals, to extend their patient base, expand facility reach, and tailor their working hours.

Patient Benefits

Telehealth Improves Access to Specialists and Reduces Patient Costs

Patients face many challenges when it comes to accessing the right specialists depending on where they live and what their needs are. Telehealth helps overcome that challenge by providing access to virtually any specialist in the world. According to a UPMC patient survey, 40% of their patients said they would skip treatment if they did not have access to a virtual visit because of the burden of repeated and sometimes excessive travel.

Telehealth Increases Rural Area Care and Can Provide Better Quality of Care

Telehealth helps patients located in rural areas reach the right level of care. Specifically, telehealth benefits older individuals in these areas with chronic conditions who require high levels of monitoring and have difficulty traveling. The increase in remote monitoring capabilities and access to providers can change the clinical outcome in some situations and provides better quality of life for those individuals.

Telehealth Can Enhance Patient Availability and Convenience

Many patients today do not visit a health care provider as often as they should due to limiting factors such as work schedules and family responsibilities. Virtual care can solve for this by providing quick and efficient mobile visits that patients can access during lunch breaks or in the evenings. Recognizing and reacting to these challenges is important for any healthcare system to bring the benefits of improved care to this population.

Telehealth Enables Expanded Patient Reach

The way that patients of each generation use health care continues to evolve over time, with the latest trend that millennials and Gen Z access much of their needs via apps and devices. These groups have been raised with technology at their fingertips and place a great deal of importance on convenience. This, coupled with the fact that younger people are more likely to be healthy and require less medical attention makes them a great audience to offer telehealth services to expand the patient base.

As healthcare systems prepare to take on telehealth, they need to consider implementation factors and build a comprehensive plan to ensure they’re building a low overhead and sustainable offering. That plan should include the integration points, support models, billing, and much more.

Be on the lookout for Part 2 of this blog series which will address the factors healthcare systems should consider when evaluating their telehealth program.

As healthcare systems prepare to take on telehealth, they need to consider implementation factors and build a comprehensive plan to ensure they're building a low overhead and sustainable offering.

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