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Virtual Care: Empowering Patients Remotely

Virtual care—or “remote practitioner-patient interactions”—is on the rise. Broadly, it encompasses all care that occurs outside face-to-face interactions: telephone calls, video visits, e-consults (asynchronous provider-to-provider electronic communication), secure messaging, email. The Wall Street Journal notes that virtual care services saw a 20% increase from 2015–2016, and experts from the Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health Systems Solutions and Virtual Care agree that by 2025 the majority of patient interactions with providers and health care systems will be virtual.

According to research done by Accenture, a vast majority of consumers are more than ready to receive health care services virtually. Of consumers Accenture surveyed:

  • 77% would prefer to track their health status virtually, including blood pressure, blood glucose and pulse rate.
  • 76% would prefer to have a virtual follow-up visit.
  • 74% would prefer to get follow-up health care virtually at home after being hospitalized.
  • 72% would prefer to get virtual reminders to take medication and daily support to help manage ongoing health conditions.
  • 65% would be open to attending an online class about a specific condition such as diabetes.
  • 53% would be open to receiving mental health counseling therapy virtually.
  • 50% would be open to participating in virtual mental health group therapy.

Patients routinely bear the brunt of the health care system’s inefficiencies—complex scheduling processes, hard-to-reach call centers, inconveniently long waiting room times—that feed into the more significant issue (and risk) of patients not being as active in their care as they need to be.

The shift to patient-centered care has not only empowered patients to be active decision makers, it has also amplified the need for tools that can help patients become more self-sufficient by streamlining patient/provider communication and by putting knowledge and resources at patients’ fingertips.

Understanding the role of social determinants of health and addressing them in the care journey can improve health outcomes and minimize health disparities.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution—this is an enormous undertaking—but technology has made strides in personalizing health care and developing methods for connecting with patients. Access to digital tools can support patients across the social and economic landscape. Virtual care can provide an integrated experience that educates and empowers patients during their health care journey, such as symptom checkers and care recommendations, health topic education, scheduling, FAQs, call center escalation… and more.

Outreach is key to leveraging virtual care for patients afflicted by social risks. In the current landscape, value-based care and financial levers may help identify patient populations from which to gather clinical and socioeconomic data, including race, ethnicity, age, language and gender identity. Enhanced reporting is creating the opportunity for personalized, proactive campaigns regarding scheduling, appointment reminders, treatment follow-up and education reinforcement. Concurrently, organizations can use automated outreach to reach and engage patient and close care gaps around routine screenings, annual exams, vaccinations and beyond.

With virtual care, clinicians can provide multiple health services remotely, including:

  • Patient follow-up.
  • Diagnose acute illness.
  • Order labs, diagnostic imaging and prescriptions (when appropriate).
  • Monitor and manage chronic disease.
  • Treat mental health conditions.

This strategy is most successful when the solution is to meet patients “where they are,” because it accounts for patients’ social and economic situations and standardizes the quality of support.

What do you think? Join the dicussion here

1. What criteria does your organization use to identify the type of virtual solution that works best for you?

2. Has your organization identified individuals who would benefit the most from virtual care?

3. What clinical or operational challenges should stakeholders consider when integrating virtual care into their workflow?