Telemedicine. Virtual Health. These services have been heralded as revolutionary, with swift adoption across the U.S. – nearly half of large employers offer them today, compared to 28 percent in 2013. But can they live up to the hype?
Virtual health is clearly a growing trend. As it becomes more common, it raises questions about its definition, benefits and effectiveness.
We’re firm believers that virtual health is part of the future of healthcare. However, we think it works best when virtual providers are part of the same team and have access to one medical record. Here’s our take.
What is virtual health? Is it different than telemedicine?
To start off, when we say virtual health, we mean any interaction with a health professional by phone, or through a video call or secure message.
Some people use the term interchangeably with telemedicine and telehealth. For us, the difference is that telemedicine typically refers to a live conversation, while virtual health encompasses those conversations and other interactions, like secure messages.
What are the benefits of virtual healthcare solutions?
The greatest benefit of virtual health is it offers unprecedented healthcare access. It’s a fast, convenient way for people to see a provider any time they need one, 24/7. Consider:
- Virtual health can increase access to a qualified provider during nights and weekends, when many provider offices are closed.
- Most people would rather stay home when they’re sick. Virtual health makes it possible for them to see a provider on-demand or through an appointment without leaving the couch.
- For people who live a long distance from their provider, virtual health can save on time and transportation costs.
Are virtual health visits effective?
Yes. Medical studies continue to demonstrate that care delivered virtually is just as effective as face-to-face care in terms of quality and patient satisfaction. In addition, when a Premise Health member attends a virtual health visit, her care is still coordinated within the same provider team.
Some opponents have pointed out that virtual health has the potential to further fragment the healthcare system, because patients may use different services and their information is not captured in a single medical record. However, our model is different. Instead of working with contracted providers who only offer virtual health visits a few hours a week, our virtual health providers are full-time employees who are dedicated to our members 24/7. In addition, our providers have access to one electronic health record. They can view members’ health histories in real time during a visit, and then capture information from the visit in that same record.
One trusted team with access to a single medical record, a convenient experience, and tightly coordinated care – We believe those three ingredients are essential to maximize the benefits of virtual health access, while ensuring members receive high quality care.
What is the future for virtual health?
We think virtual health will continue to expand. Just in February, Congress passed a new law to make it easier to see a provider online.
That’s great news, but there are still a lot of hurdles for providers in the community who want to offer virtual health. It is hard for them to be paid for virtual visits, for example, and guidelines differ about which conditions should be treated via a virtual visit and which should not. In addition, technology continues to be a barrier for many of them.
In the meantime, we’re committed to offering virtual health visits to clients and members today. For us it all comes back to access. We see virtual health as a key part of healthcare because of its power to connect people to a provider. While virtual health is not meant to replace all face-to-face care, it is an integral part of helping people get the care they need, when and where they need it.
Our commitment to virtual health
We’re pushing virtual health forward for our members today, so they don’t have to wait to have the kind of powerful access it delivers. We believe in a high-touch, high-tech approach that delivers value for our members by connecting them to a provider 24/7, either by appointment or on demand.
Our virtual health programs include:
- 24/7 national access to care via a mobile device or the web.
- A secure portal where members can connect with providers through secure messages.
- Coordinated care among a team of Premise Health providers.
If you’re in charge of health at your organization, let us know how access to primary care affects your people. Get in touch – we value your questions and feedback.