Even before COVID-19, many Americans expressed interest in virtual health. Now, virtual health technology is being used to expand access to more healthcare services.

The use of virtual health technology has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. New rules authorizing Medicare payments for telephone and video visits with providers accelerated the change, but even before the pandemic, many Americans expressed interest in virtual health technology and telehealth visits.

In 2019, a survey showed that 66% of Americans were willing to use telehealth, but only 8% had actually had a telehealth visit with their doctors. But healthcare practitioners were inching toward adoption: A Deloitte study in late 2019 and early 2020 showed that 50% of healthcare executives predicted that at least a quarter of all outpatient care, preventive care, long-term care and well-being services would be delivered virtually by 2040.

Thrown into the coronavirus pandemic, providers and care managers had to facilitate adoption of virtual health technology more quickly than they expected. The pandemic has shown that virtual health technology can be a safer option for both providers and patients, as well as reducing the strain on healthcare systems by minimizing the surge of patient demand and reducing the use of PPE by providers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ultimately, virtual health technology can expand access to care for many patients who may have challenges with transportation, geographic barriers, caretaking responsibilities, anxiety about hospitals or physician offices, or other obstacles that make it difficult to see providers in person. For example, millions of American adults struggle with behavioral health issues such as anxiety and depression, but only 43% of those struggling are receiving treatment, according to Accenture research. Virtual health options could expand behavioral health treatment to 53 million Americans, the research shows.

Consider these four ways that virtual health technology can be used to expand access to care.

1 | Interact in real time. Through video and audio technology, patients can visit with providers in real time without leaving their homes or offices. Providers can screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms or provide low-risk urgent care for other conditions, and make referrals for patients who need additional or specialized care.

Sometimes, a physician can conduct an evaluation remotely while another healthcare practitioner physically uses medical equipment, such as digital stethoscope, otoscope or ultrasound, with the patient. This scenario is especially helpful when a patient needs a second opinion or specialist opinion from a physician who is geographically distant, or when a home health nurse can collaborate with the physician from the patient’s home, so that the patient can avoid making a trip to the doctor’s office.

2 | Build stronger relationships with patients. Care managers at health plans, as well as healthcare providers, are using virtual health technology to engage members in one-on-one conversations about their health and their lives. Through these interactions, providers and care managers can address a variety of situations, including behavioral health issues and social determinants of health such as food insecurity and domestic safety. Care managers can help establish trust by engaging in face-to-face conversations, even if they are through video technology.

3 | Monitor patients remotely. Not only can patients benefit from easy telephone or video visits with their providers, but virtual health technology also includes the use of smartphone apps, wearables, and internet-connected scales and blood pressure monitors that allow providers, care managers and caregivers to keep track of a patient’s vital signs, activity and weight.

Such apps and monitoring devices make it easy for providers to keep tabs on patients with chronic health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. For example, the American College of Cardiology recommended its members acquire the capabilities to set up virtual visits, and distribute scales, blood pressure cuffs and other standard cardiac monitoring devices to ensure the success of routine virtual visits.

4 | Simplify communication. Care managers at health plans, as well as healthcare providers, are using virtual health technology to communicate more regularly and simply with patients. For instance, care teams can use secure emails and texts through patient portals to check in with patients or send them reminders, such as to get a flu shot or schedule a mammogram. Patients can also use these channels to ask questions or contact providers quickly without wasting time listening to hold music on the phone.

When patients have access to their providers through secure messaging portals, they can avoid the anxiety that often comes from not knowing the answer to a pressing question. With a quick response from the physician, a patient can put his or her mind at ease and follow the provider’s instructions to maintain or return to health. In an era when more than 40% of Americans avoid going to the doctor because they can’t or don’t want to pay the bill, the opportunity to communicate with a doctor without visiting a clinic can be inexpensive and life-changing for those in need of care.

To learn how Medecision’s Aerial platform can help your organization succeed at virtual health, while also boosting operational productivity and improving patient engagement, click here.

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