For most people in the modern, digital world, it seems only natural that medicine would incorporate virtual tools like video calls and remote data collection to improve patient outcomes. So it should hardly come as a surprise that a recent survey by Accenture found 78 percent of respondents eager to try virtual medicine. As the public learns more about this technology-based care delivery system and more providers implement it, there will undoubtedly be an enormous surge in utilization.
At the moment, there are some obstacles to widespread implementation. Only a small percentage of the public knows what virtual health care is; in the Accenture survey, 27 percent had never been exposed to the concept and another 36 percent had heard of the term but knew nothing about virtual medicine.
In addition to a knowledge gap that should rapidly dissipate as more people try it, there is an experiential hurdle. Many people may not be willing to try a new form of interaction with their physician without some encouragement. Accenture found that 44 percent of survey respondents would try virtual medicine if their doctor recommended it. Another 31 percent would be willing to try it if their insurer covered it.
Many of the technological hurdles are being dismantled with speed, as providers recognize the advantages. Accenture estimates that virtual health care may save $7 billion a year for patients and providers. Virtual visits would not only eliminate many office visits, but would also shorten the time spent on administrative and basic health functions. For example, new facilities like the Virtual Care Center in St. Louis offers 24/7 support that helps cut down on unnecessary trips to the ER.
In 2016, there were 1.2 million virtual doctor visits in the United States, up 20 percent from the one million in 2015. The American Telemedicine Association also reports that 15 million Americans obtained remote care last year, and this is expected to grow by 30 percent this year.
More people are taking advantage of virtual medicine because more organizations are opting in. Almost 72 percent of hospitals and 52 percent of physician groups now have some kind of remote care service. The number of employers who support virtual health care has also risen dramatically; from 48 percent in 2015, almost 74 percent of employers now offer some remote care benefits.
This surge in popularity is driven by lower costs and added convenience for patients, but there are other factors in play. With a broader reach using a digital medium, providers are better positioned to compete with emerging care portals like retail clinics.
Finally, the most important justification for virtual medicine is the ability to provide healthcare services to those living in rural communities. For much of the American public that resides in underserved areas, telemedicine offers access to care that is otherwise unavailable. Remote monitoring also allows physicians to keep a watchful eye on patient conditions without a disruptive and costly face-to-face meeting. A quick email or prescription in response to a health event may be enough to stave off a crisis.
Article written by:
Dr. Robert Moghim, CEO Onyx M.D.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.