Enhancing Patient Care With Virtual Care Services

By Kannan Sreedhar, corporate consulting director of healthcare, Avaya.

Kannan Sreedhar

The need for value-based healthcare has never been greater in the United States. Research shows that six out of 10 adults have a chronic disease being treated, and 60 percent of those adults have more than one healthcare institution treating them. This number may grow, as 84 million Americans with prediabetes are already at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.

In the face of this growing healthcare demand, the supply of medical generalists has been consistently trailing the supply of specialists. By 2030, a study from the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates a shortfall of between 14,800 and 49,300 primary care physicians, as well as a shortage in non-primary care specialties of between 33,800 and 72,700 physicians.

Compacting this issue, the U.S. population is estimated to grow nearly 11 percent by 2030, with those age 65 and older increasing by 50 percent. As physicians begin to retire too, this problem will be exacerbated.

While digital technology has been positively impacting access to healthcare services for quite some time, efficiencies, such as virtual care, need to be implemented widely in order to address the impending physician shortage, and maximize the delivery of quality care.

This implementation will be somewhat natural as patient access and services continue to evolve from live voice interactions to leveraging digital solutions. Several healthcare providers have made this step toward virtual care already, and are showing strong results for patient satisfaction.

A virtual visit pilot program conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital found a 97 percent satisfaction rate among patients with access to these new communications and care options, with 74 percent stating “that the interaction actually improved their relationship with their provider.” They also found that 87 percent of patients said they would have needed to come into the office to see a provider face to face if it weren’t for their virtual visit.

Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) have a similar offering, providing a suite of apps enabling members to exchange secure messages with their clinicians, create appointments, refill prescriptions, and view their lab results and medical records. As a result, the number of virtual visits has tripled to 10.5 million over last six years.

At Valley Health, a tele-ICU has provided a viable solution to reduce mortality rates. During the first year of its implementation, the technology helped save 125 lives, reduce ICU length of stay by 34 percent, and also reduce the sepsis mortality rate.

These examples show how virtual care can aid patients for when they first need help, but the care journey does not stop there. It continues with prescriptions, labs, imaging, and referrals to other care providers. In these instances, virtual care can be used as a follow-up and check-in tool so that patients no longer need to visit their physician in-person, they can quickly interact with them from the comfort of home.

To deliver this experience it’s vital that healthcare providers are able to centralize their communication technologies and streamline workflows. Gathering information from multiple channels into one platform allows for greater patient oversight, and consequently, greater patient care. Tasks, such as appointment scheduling and care team coordination, become much easier, and more efficient, when staff have a holistic picture of the patient and hospital resources.

The research firm IDC stated there more chances and challenges than ever before to communicate with patients, beginning with the amount of channel choices like phone, web, text or chat, used to connect with them. Each strategy is unique to each patient. As the number of physicians decreases it will become paramount that their time is spent wisely, and they’re able to take care of as many patients as possible. It’s up to healthcare providers to make this a reality, and virtual healthcare may be the solution.

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