Virtual care emerges on the connected health scene
Many healthcare stakeholders see a variety of virtual care—sometimes known as remote care—models as an important way to reduce healthcare costs and improve efficiency, according to a new eMarketer report, “Connected Health: More than Just Wearables: What Marketers Need to Know About Digitally Enabled Care.”
Virtual care is a subset of telemedicine, a broad concept that the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) says is “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.” It also includes “a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smartphones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.”
In an August 2014 study by HIMSS, 46% of more than 400 hospitals and medical practices said they used at least one type of telemedicine, most often videoconferencing.
Providers who practice virtual care today are already expanding their geographic horizons, making care more accessible to those with mobility issues, using time more effectively and making patient interactions more convenient. Still, remote consultations and digital communication between healthcare providers (HCPs) and patients have been slow to catch on because of concerns about quality, privacy and lack of insurance reimbursement.
In October 2014, the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine (AIHM) found that 33% of US healthcare practitioners offered healthcare services via telephone, video or webcam visits, and another 29% planned to do so in the next few years.
On the payer front, some insurers—seeking to reduce costs associated with in-office visits—are beginning to reimburse providers for phone, video and text-based interactions. As more payers jump on this bandwagon, the number of providers offering virtual care is expected to rise, as will opportunities for different stakeholders to get involved. In the US, the ATA estimated that up to 500,000 patients would see a doctor via webcam in 2014, according to an article in WebMD Health News. And Deloitte estimated that there would be 100 million such “evisits” worldwide in 2014, resulting in $5 billion in savings over the cost of in-person doctor visits. Deloitte also forecast 400% growth over 2012 levels.