The increasing use of virtual care is fueled by the convergence of trends in person-centered care, advances in digital technology and the popularity of on-demand services. Virtual care allows individuals access to health services when and where it’s most convenient. Just as important, it expands origination site locations to anywhere individuals are, including their homes.
For post-acute providers, virtual care represents a new frontier. It expands where and how care can be provided as well as the range of services that can be offered via in-home health care, skilled nursing and assisted living facilities. As a result, post-acute providers can effectively reduce not only rehospitalizations but also the need to transport frail or chronically ill patients for face-to-face appointments with medical specialists, mental health professionals and other providers.
With virtual care, individuals experience
- Lower hospital readmissions
- Improved mental and physical health
- Increased patient engagement
- Increased access to care
With virtual care, providers experience
- Lower cost to deliver care
- Ability to remain competitive
- Greater engagement between staff and patients
- Improved patient outcomes
Defining virtual care
“Telehealth” and “virtual care” can be used interchangeably. However, the latter term is more accurate, given the expanding range of digital technology used to support care.
It also should be emphasized that virtual care is a means of delivering care. As such, provisions must be made to integrate the information and results from virtual care interactions into electronic health record platforms
, just as face-to-face interactions would be.
Basically, there are four types of virtual care interactions:
- Virtual visits (synchronous) – scheduled interactions that take place in real time between patient and provider via videoconferencing to consult, diagnose and treat without an in-person visit
- Store and forward (asynchronous) – transmitting and storing a patient’s medical data (e.g., scans, images) for review by a specialist or provider
- Remote patient monitoring – an ongoing collection of physical indicators (e.g., weight, blood pressure, heart rate, A1C) that are transmitted to a provider for use in treatment and diagnosis
- Mobile health – use of apps on mobile phones and tablets to educate and engage patients; can also be used as a tool to train/educate caregivers and providers
Why post-acute providers should explore virtual care strategies
The Census Bureau reports1
that 16% of the population was 65 years old or older in 2018, and the median age is rising. The Census Bureau predicts seniors will outnumber children by 2035. These numbers point to the need for post-acute providers to explore ways to make care for seniors more efficient and effective.
Rise in chronic conditions
According to Aspen Institute2
, more than half of adults ages 18 and older have at least one chronic condition (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, hypertension) and more than one-quarter have at least two.
Even more significant is the increase in population segments with multiple chronic conditions: 18% of adults were treated for five or more chronic diseases in 2015, compared to just 8% of the population in 1995. Medicare and Medicaid value-based payment models target the treatment of chronic diseases, so post-acute providers would do well to get ahead of the game and make formulating virtual care strategies a priority.
Improved access and better outcomes
As noted above, virtual care allows patients to receive specialized care regardless of mobility or geographic location. Providers can identify risk and intervene before health issues escalate to require hospitalization, which can be a major stressor on seniors. Virtual care is also a powerful tool for educating patients and connecting them with resources to help manage their conditions.
Growing demand for aging in place
shows the vast majority of middle-age and senior adults prefer to remain in their homes – 87% percent of seniors age 65 and older and 71% of those between 50 and 64 want to age in place. Providing those services will require a way to make home health services both effective and efficient.
- Research from Accenture found that consumers prefer virtual care for a wide range of health conditions:
- 77% prefer to track their health status virtually, including things like blood pressure, blood glucose and pulse rate
- 74% would prefer to get follow-up healthcare at home after being hospitalized
- 72% would prefer to get reminders to take medication and get daily support to help manage ongoing health conditions
- 70% of consumers surveyed would prefer to have a virtual exam for minor ailments like a sore throat or a sinus condition
The foundation for the future
As digital technologies continue grow more robust, their application to virtual care will expand even more. It’s a natural progression in the move to value-based care that is truly person-centric. Read our new whitepaper – Are you delivering person-centered care? 4 crucial elements
– to explore how technology can enhance collaboration among providers and, ultimately, drive better care for patients.
Beyond applications for patients, virtual care has the potential to support clearer, more timely communication and updates with family members of patients, easing their concerns as well as increasing satisfaction with post-acute services. Virtual care technology is also an effective way to conduct staff training,
Finally, virtual care can help you lay the foundation for securely sharing personal health information across the healthcare system, setting the stage for spanning silos of care and streamlining transitions to other care settings.
Andrew Fosnacht is senior manager for virtual care at Netsmart, a healthcare IT company that provides EHRs and business services to more than 30,000 post-acute care and human services organizations. He works to develop a cohesive brand and value system among associates, clients, suppliers and partners, enabling communities to share vital clinical data.
Read more on how you can start building your virtual care strategy:
1New England Journal of Medicine:
Rehospitalizations among Patients in the Medicare Fee-for-Service Program