The future of healthcare is efficient, effective... and surprisingly personal - MedCity News

Many of us first tried virtual care during the pandemic, often because we had no other choice. We reached out to our primary care doctors about Covid and other health issues, sticking our elbows and ears up to the webcams to show where it hurts. It was Virtual Care 1.0, and it was little more than visiting a doctor via video.

These early days of “remote doctors” not only met our needs, but most of us found the experience convenient and time-saving. Most of us are willing to use virtual care on a regular basis baseand providers and insurers are poised to build on this wellspring of enthusiasm for telehealth: Virtual Care 2.0 is just around the corner.

Timely, specific and personal

If you’ve ever stood in the rain trying to hail a taxi, you might have wondered “why are there NO taxis?” What you didn’t know was that there were several taxis available at that very moment—just out of sight, just around the corner. The problem was not the lack of taxis, but rather the lack of taxis where and when you needed them. Uber solved this problem by connecting customers and taxis instantly and to the exact location where a ride is needed. As customers and drivers realized the power of the model, new uses emerged, including UberEats and other off-label ordering services.

Uber created a new category of service by exploiting inefficiencies in the transportation system. By creating a marketplace for drivers with empty cars or empty seats, they dramatically increased the convenience and efficiency of transportation while reducing costs and improving satisfaction. Both drivers and riders have benefited. Uber’s story shows how virtual systems can connect people to real-world services and serves as a powerful metaphor for the future of healthcare delivery through Virtual Care 2.0.

Not just appointment via video

Several platforms have emerged that aspire to be the Uber of healthcare, but not all are the same. Most continue to focus on emergency or primary care — replicating a traditional doctor’s visit via video. Such replication fails to harness the true power of the technology and does little to mitigate megatrends in the healthcare market:

  • Traditional doctor visits take up very little doctor time. The average hourly examination includes only 15-20 minutes of care from the doctors. The rest of the appointment visit is filled with PA and nurse consultations, taking vitals, clerical needs, and (mostly) waiting. Often the “result” of the visit is a referral to a specialist, where after a long wait for an appointment the cycle repeats itself.
  • The US is facing a shortage of doctors and nurses. As health worker shortages worsen over the next decade, wait times and schedule delays will increase, putting patients’ health at risk. Increasing efficiency and organizational capacity are the only methods available to address this shortfall in the near future.
  • Healthcare needs are growing. Aging baby boomers will strain our health care systems over the next two decades, and given their financial resources, they are likely to expand the market for innovative geriatric care and lifestyle medicine. Add to this trend a larger, long-term health crisis in America expressed by declining life expectancy. Finally, Covid-19 is likely just an early example in a future pattern of pandemics.

To address these industry challenges, improve efficiency, build capacity and deliver better healthcare experiences, Virtual Care 2.0 must harness patients’ enthusiasm for technology, research and invent new models. The result will be a complete reshaping of the market towards virtual specialty care.

Specialized care is at the heart of Virtual Care 2.0

By providing seamless access to a network of specialist physicians, virtual specialty care can ease the pressure on physicians and expedite access to high-quality specialists. Aided by technology that facilitates understanding of medical history and follow-up, virtual specialty care is shifting the conversation from acute care to longitudinal care, including lifestyle medicine. Specialists connected directly to the patient, attuned to nuance and supported by powerful information systems, can analyze the entire patient journey on any health topic, big or small, common or rare. Here’s how it works:

  1. Employers purchase membership in a virtual care network and provide access as a benefit of employment; their employees are now “members” of the network.
  2. Most members first use virtual specialty care because they have a specific health question or concern. When they connect with a health concierge on this first topic, they initiate a network connection that can grow and deepen over time.
  3. The Healthcare Concierge responds to the member’s inquiry and uses technology to identify a highly qualified medical specialist.
  4. A consultation with a specialist physician is scheduled within days, and sometimes hours, of a member’s initial inquiry. The health concierge can also help the member prepare for the consultation by guiding them to gather medical records and imaging that the specialist may need and even coaching members to formulate meaningful questions for the doctor.
  5. Follow-up talks are planned to introduce the member to the benefits of long-term care, lifestyle medicine and other telehealth options that come from a continued connection to the network.

The efficiency of this model is a win-win for all involved:

  • Patients see the right doctors sooner, leading to better health outcomes. In one network, 52% of patients changed their approach to treatment based on physician guidance received through a virtual specialty care.
  • Employers who offer virtual specialty care as a benefit see a healthier, happier and more productive workforce with fewer sick days. In addition, they see drastic savings in healthcare costs as a result of faster and more accurate diagnosis. Specialty care platforms have delivered up to $7,150 in average savings per membership, resulting in a 3:1 return on investment.
  • Doctors spend more time with patients. With an average patient engagement time of 44 minutes, doctors can spend more time with each patient, directly listening and engaging.

Manage the entire trip

Virtual Care 2.0 will restore the human connection between patients and the collective wisdom of the medical community. Using new tools, patients and professionals will collaborate to quickly identify healthcare challenges and chart a path to wellness.

Virtual specialty care networks can provide the kind of longitudinal health care connectivity we haven’t seen since the era of home visits and doctor’s bags—benefiting both patients and physicians. Employers who sponsor virtual special care for their employees will see a happier, more productive workforce, greater retention and reduced costs.

Photo: Feodora Chiosea, Getty Images

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