Telehealth can offset projected clinician shortages, bring affordable care to uninsured patients and eliminate wait times for consultation.
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Virtual care — the delivery of healthcare via phone, tablet or computer — is available as a way to conveniently access quality healthcare when and where it is needed. As one of the fastest growing healthcare trends among consumers, virtual care can help patients get cost-effective, timely treatment without sacrificing quality.
The goal of virtual care, delivered with telehealth services, is to reduce time off from work for patients, and keep families healthy and productive. As the industry grows and gains acceptance from healthcare organizations, virtual care providers hope to bring significant out-of-pocket cost savings compared with in-person visits, and faster, more convenient access to quality care for patients.
Like other forms of healthcare, quality assurance is a key area of concern. As recently as last year, doubts were being raised about virtual care services’ ability to set and meet quality-of-care standards. This year, however, the American Medical Association (AMA) introduced policies for physicians that provide guidelines for ensuring quality when using virtual care. These policies reflect the growing acceptance of virtual care services.
By 2030 there will be a projected shortage of 100,000 physicians in the United States. This will extend the already ballooning wait times for patients to secure an appointment with general practitioners and specialists alike. With the increased demand for care from patients and a decreased supply of doctors, quality of care is sure to decline across all fields of medicine.
By adopting virtual care services, physicians will be able to provide consultations for patients in real time, eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming appointments. As such, virtual care services are being accepted and implemented by federal organizations like the AMA not out of convenience but out of necessity.
Virtual care services are essential to ensuring quality care for all patients in the future.
Although the AMA is taking measures to allow insurers to pay physicians for providing virtual care services, insurance is not a necessity for access to virtual care. For uninsured patients who cannot access healthcare benefits, using virtual care as a primary means of care can provide significant savings in out-of-pocket medical expenses and peace of mind. An added benefit is that there are no wait times and no loss of valuable time at work or home.
Of course, the insured also stand to benefit from adopting virtual care service. Up until recently, it had been nearly impossible to offer telehealth as a standalone benefit. Now, small employers can also offer virtual care as a voluntary benefit, reward, perk or as part of a wellness program within the company and to all employees, regardless of their employment or insurance status.
Employees can enroll in a virtual care program without the need for an insurance plan or as a complement to one. Select virtual care companies provide discounted group rates via an employer, through incentive and reward platforms or directly through the telehealth provider’s website.
Virtual care visits for dozens of the most common conditions can reduce costs significantly for patients and payers alike, especially those who are self-insured. Experts have determined that remote consultations and other convenient features save an average of $472 per episode of care. These savings come with the added benefit of prompt and accessible care.
For patients and physicians, virtual care’s convenience is perhaps the most tangible benefit. Users can simply log in in from their phone, tablet or computer at any time and request a medical consult for themselves or a family member with a board-certified doctor in as little as 10 minutes. The doctor can diagnose the patient’s symptoms and recommend treatment, which can include a prescription being delivered to a nearby pharmacy.
In combination, the speed and affordability of virtual care services benefit patients and physicians alike. As the industry develops, working people can expect to get the care and prescriptions they need from the comfort of their home, rather than in a doctor’s office. Virtual care services continue to fundamentally change the way that people access quality healthcare.
Joey Truscelli is the CEO of Hello Alvin.
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