The concept of “virtual” care has been around for a long time. In fact, it can be dated as far back as an article from 1879 in The Lancet, which discussed how doctors and patients could use the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits. It reveals how advancements in technology have always impacted healthcare and, we have good reason to believe, it will continue to do so.
With the recent pandemic imposing restrictions upon traditional office visits, virtual care continued to accelerate its growth. For example, at the start of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saw the number of telehealth visits increase by 50%, compared with the same period in 2019. This increased demand for virtual care is only expected to continue growing with an anticipated five-year annual growth rate of 38%. Because of this continual expansion, virtual care has proven to play a larger role in healthcare delivery and is here to stay.
Virtual care helped providers tackle challenges the pandemic presented and impacted the growth of telehealth. Discover how it can be leveraged to deliver quality care in our eBook.
In the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak, telemedicine became the focus of healthcare delivery as providers tried to bridge the gap of social distancing. Yet, the growth in remote services does not stop there. Instead, it showed that telemedicine may just be a starting base for virtual changes in healthcare.
This is because the pandemic also highlighted the potential in other virtual care solutions that offer value-based care. Historically, providers considered services like care management, remote patient monitoring (RPM), and at-home-based care as convenient additional solutions. Now after the surge in usage of telehealth, these services are better supported by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). This can be seen in its 2021 Fee Schedule, which includes more reimbursements for remote value-based care, making it a bigger priority for practices.
The impact of this support can already be felt within the virtual care market. For example, the care management solutions market is projected to grow by 16% while RPM is expected to grow by 38% in the upcoming years.
The benefits these solutions offer are numerous to both patients and providers alike. They can help providers offer additional care to patients from the comfort of their homes while also improving clinical outcomes and engaging them even after the pandemic ends. For example, according to a Consumer Technology Association study, the benefits of using RPM in healthcare include:
With healthcare shifting more into virtual care, providers and patients need to feel comfortable with the use of technology. Luckily, after 2020, both patients’ and providers’ comfortability with telehealth has grown.
According to a Doximity report, it found that before the pandemic, just 14% of Americans had tried telehealth at least once. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, that number rose by 57%, and for those with a chronic condition, the number increased by 77%. More patients are growing comfortable with utilizing virtual care platforms. In fact, 28% of patients reported having a positive experience with telehealth interactions. For patients with chronic illness, 53% of them reported a positive or even better experience with virtual care than an in-person visit.
This sentiment translates to providers as well. A survey conducted by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition found that 70% of providers are motivated to utilize telehealth even after the pandemic. Furthermore, the respondents reported benefits in using virtual care solutions, including:
It’s important that both providers and patients feel more satisfied and motivated with using virtual care. As healthcare continues to shift to be increasingly mobile and personalized, making sure all participants are comfortable with the upcoming changes is essential to keep telehealth services moving forward.
Up to 50% of primary care is expected to be delivered virtually from now on, and much like primary care, specialty care will also be increasingly delivered through virtual care platforms.
While many services are encompassed under specialty care, not all of them can be delivered solely virtually. For instance, procedure-based specialties like ophthalmology and orthopedics had to pause or delay surgeries at the beginning of COVID-19. Yet, other specialties like cardiology and endocrinology could shift to focus on more preventative care and chronic condition management.
This is impactful because the treatment of chronic conditions accounts for 90% of the nation’s $3.8 trillion annual healthcare spending. Care management is commonly used for chronic conditions including treatments of medication management, medication adherence, patient monitoring, and coaching, which can all be delivered through virtual care.
In 2020, a study found that chronically ill patients were significantly turning to virtual care management for treatment of their conditions. It reported an increase of 642% for diabetes, 441% for hypertension, and 258% for back pain. Receiving this care virtually can help reduce spending in chronic illness and overall healthcare expenditures while providing patients with the care they need. That said, care management and primary care are examples of virtual care services that will increasingly grow in use.
According to the NCSL, more than 75% of rural counties live in health professional shortage areas. With 15-20% of rural Americans making up the U.S. population, this leaves a large group of patients with insufficient access to health care providers and specialists. They are more likely to receive less healthcare coverage but still travel long distances to reach hospitals compared to urban and suburban residents. These challenges negatively affect the overall health of rural patients.
For example, the lack of access to proper care is exemplified in their conditions and outcomes. The CDC reports the rates for the five leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, respiratory disease, and stroke—are higher in rural areas. Increased access to care is needed for this population, and due to development in virtual care, they may finally be getting it.
In 2020, CMS proposed permanent changes to the federal government to expand telehealth and advance access to care in rural areas. The Executive Order was approved to sustain the additional virtual care services provided during the pandemic, specifically aiming to benefit patients living in rural communities. By providing more accessible healthcare services, these patients can receive:
Increasing care in rural communities can ensure patients truly receive value-based care. This healthcare delivery model has been proven to improve patient outcomes while reducing the cost of spending in ongoing care. It can also help improve the clinical and financial outcomes rural patients face. This is because virtual care can do more than just transform healthcare delivery. It can make sure every patient has access to the care they need.
If you’re interested in discovering what virtual care solutions can do for your healthcare organization and patient population, contact us to learn more.
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