Virtual Care: what it is and what it’s not
Let’s clear something up first: virtual care is not the same thing as telehealth. Rather, it’s a detail within the bigger picture. Virtual care refers to the ways in which physicians interact with their patients remotely via smartphones and other technologies.
Telehealth, on the other hand, encompasses the entirety of remote/technology-driven healthcare, which could include remote monitoring of vitals, pregnancy tracking, health management apps, and more.
How is virtual care different from in-person care?
The traditional primary healthcare model isn’t ideal for many patients, especially for single parents, people with limited methods of transportation, and the elderly. What’s more, there is a shortage of primary care physicians in the US, so it can be difficult to get an appointment when you need it. And things are getting worse.
By 2033, the AAMC estimates that there will be a shortage of 21,400 to 55,200 physicians. As the population continues to grow and age, this gap will have a huge negative impact: that is unless we embrace virtual primary care. By doing so, patients get the opportunity to access healthcare in a convenient, user-friendly manner.
How is virtual primary care delivered?
Virtual care does not completely eliminate the need for in-person care. Of course, you will still need to see your physician or other specialty doctors for routine vaccinations, colonoscopies, blood work, and so on. However, there are a huge number of services that can be administered virtually, including:
- Mental health appointments
- Annual wellness screenings
- Pre-visits and follow-up care
Does it cut costs?
Virtual healthcare is much more affordable for patients – but it also generates more profit for medical practices. How is this possible? Well, by enabling virtual visits, doctors are able to see far more patients, while patients spend less time and money on the visits. To illustrate both sides of the coin, let’s take a look at some key statistics.
A study from Humana uncovered that the US wastes 25% of all money spent on healthcare. Two of the major causes of waste are failure of care coordination and failure of care delivery, with both domains leading to hundreds of billions of dollars wasted per year. The same study found that care was improved and scaled nationally, the healthcare system could cut waste by 50%. And virtual care is perfectly poised to improve the system in such a manner. For instance, virtual healthcare can:
- Reduce avoidable emergency department visits and their associated costs. Out of all visits to emergency departments, 12% are for mental health issues that can be treated virtually. By giving patients better access to behavioral health professionals via virtual care, we can divert the avoidable cases and save hospitals millions of dollars each year. We can also flip the statistic around to see how patients benefit: the cost of each avoidable ED visit is approximately $2000, but a virtual behavioral health session might only be a couple of hundred dollars.
- Reduce readmissions via virtual discharge management. By utilizing virtual follow-up services, patients can heal at home while still getting the necessary care. They don’t have to worry about going to a doctor’s office or urgent care for a follow-up; these are both actions that can lead to a higher readmission rate. So, the patient saves money by getting to avoid costly in-person visits, while the hospital also benefits heavily (if their readmission rate is too high, they can be financially penalized).
- Reduce the costs of healthcare benefits. By implanting a virtual care benefit for employees, employers can save a significant amount of money while also improving the plan’s convenience. On average, it costs a company about $14,000 per employee to implement a healthcare benefit. As found in a study by the AHA, employers save approximately 11% on their benefits budget upon implementing a telemedicine program.
Summing it up
As you can see, virtual care offers huge cost savings to patients, healthcare systems, and employers alike – while also offering unparalleled convenience. It’s a win-win-win situation, which is why we anticipate seeing this model become the new normal in the coming years.