What is Virtual Primary Care?
Virtual healthcare refers to the “virtual visits” that take place between patients and clinicians via communications technology — the video and audio connectivity that allows “virtual” meetings to occur in real time, from virtually any location.
A virtual visit can be a videoconference between a doctor and a patient at home. It could mean that a patient can interact with an offsite medical specialist via a high-definition conference hookup at his or her local clinic, instead of traveling to another city. It can also give patients the chance to more readily find qualified second opinions online.
Thus far, virtual healthcare has been used chiefly for meetings and consultations, check-ins, and status reports, rather than for in-depth diagnosis or treatments. Still, as the technology evolves, more serious conditions like diabetes are falling under the influence of virtual healthcare.
Actions providers can consider to improve access and value through virtual health
Opportunity exists for health systems to enhance their value proposition for consumers in a way that creates new interactions or loyalty. Additionally, providers may build new capabilities that could lead to success in risk-based reimbursement models. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one study found that health systems, under value-based care arrangements, demonstrated 17 percent savings when they provided virtual care with their existing healthcare professionals instead of using an outsourced provider.6 On the acute care side, an opportunity may also exist to promote efficiency through models like tele-ICU and change-capacity use through “hospital at home” (HaH) models. How health systems think about these value drivers and strategies will likely depend on their market position, provider/specialty capacity, and growth objectives.
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While some telehealth visits lead to in-person consultations, especially if the patient is dealing with an urgent medical issue, it seems most of these issues can be resolved with telemedicine alone. The vast majority of patients who use this technology can conveniently get the care they need just by logging onto their computer, smartphone or tablet.
Every time a patient walks into their doctor’s office or the emergency room, there’s a 75% chance that they could have stayed at home. This statistic shows us just how valuable telehealth can be to healthcare facilities.
Healthcare providers won’t have to devote as many resources to patient care if clinicians can comfortably address patient issues via telehealth methods. Patients can stay at home where they feel more comfortable, which also reduces the chances of cross-contamination and the spread of disease.
One in five Americans live in rural areas, yet just 10% of physicians practice in these areas. Accessing care in rural parts of the country can be a challenge. Patients may have to travel long distances to see the nearest care provider, wait in long lines, or delay treatment if they don’t have access to care.
Telehealth can ease the burden placed on rural care providers, helping them see more patients in less time. Rural Americans also won’t have to travel to see their care provider – who is often several miles from home – which helps them stay on top of their healthcare needs.
According to a recent study from Connect with Care on the feasibility and cost of replacing in-person care with telehealth services, most telehealth visits can be resolved with a simple prescription. As this statistic shows, many patients do not need to be examined by a healthcare provider in person in order to receive a prescription.
Patients can describe their symptoms over the phone or video, while the doctor sends a prescription right to their local pharmacy, speeding up the treatment process. In other cases, a prescription may not be necessary at all.
Flu season and the common cold continue to wreak havoc on the general population, leading to sinus infections, fever, body aches, coughing, and other respiratory issues. While these conditions aren’t considered life-threatening, they can be a major inconvenience for patients.
Recent numbers show that more patients are using telehealth for sinusitis than any other type of condition, accounting for around 20% of all telehealth visits. Telehealth can help patients receive treatment without an in-person consultation, so they can relieve their flu or cold as quickly as possible without the inconvenience of traveling to a doctor’s office.