Since COVID-19 began, virtual care has catapulted into the healthcare mainstream. Research firm Frost Sullivan projects that virtual care usage will grow at a compound growth rate of 38.2% through 2025. You can dig more into these findings in this article from earlier this summer.
Vera Whole Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Kevin Wang, M.D., says this growth will continue because COVID-19 has forced medical providers to become more patient-centric, not just in the care they deliver but in how they deliver it. This makes the convenience of virtual care an undeniable benefit because it significantly reduces the barriers to patient access.
Healthcare organizations now have a pressing question to answer: “How can we ensure virtual care doesn’t just improve convenience but also health outcomes?”
Before we dive into this, let’s quickly get on the same page about terms.
Virtual care and telehealth: What’s the difference?
Most people use the terms virtual care and telehealth interchangeably. There's a good reason for this, the two are interrelated. In fact, Care Innovations wrote an article about the relationship between the two. In it, they define virtual care as follows:
“Virtual healthcare refers to the ‘virtual visits’ that take place between patients and clinicians via communications technology … A virtual visit can be a videoconference between a doctor and a patient at home. It could mean that a patient can interact with an off site medical specialist via a high-definition conference hookup at his or her local clinic, instead of traveling to another city.”
Virtual healthcare can provide greater flexibility and access for patients. As technology grows more sophisticated, a broader range of conditions are becoming eligible for treatment via this form of care.
Telehealth “is a broader term encompassing the entirety of remote and/or technology-driven healthcare.”
Now that we have a shared understanding of the terms, let’s shift back to the question at hand. How can we ensure virtual care improves patient outcomes?
Augmenting an existing primary care model
There are virtual care platforms on the market that claim that more than 95% of care can be provided virtually. Others say that the majority of care can be provided via text.
At Vera, we believe that any successful virtual care model must fit into an existing primary care model. There are two simple reasons for this:
- Continuity of care with a stable care team: When virtual care is part of a broader primary care model, there can be continuity across all touch points for a patient. By leveraging a single EMR and working off a single care plan for each patient, the care team will be able to provide continuity across all interactions with the patient.
- Coordinated in-person care when needed: At the height of the pandemic, Vera was able to provide 85% of its primary care services via virtual care. We believe this could be the norm going forward. But, there are still situations in which in-person care will be required, even with the advent of wearable technology applications designed for disease prevention and maintenance of health. Strong care coordination will make the transition from virtual to physical treatment seamless.
A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that, in 2016, 66% of reported primary care visits required an in-person service, due to immunizations, Papanicolaou smears, and other forms of treatment. While technology has and will improve to broaden the scope of what care can be offered online, it seems unrealistic to expect that number to grow to 100%.
There’s also the matter of patient preference. As Oliver Kharraz wrote for Fortune: “Given the opportunity, the overwhelming majority of patients are choosing to see their doctors in person again.” This shows that, when it is safe and possible, a face-to-face experience can be a priority for some patients.
Why care philosophy matters more than the care platform
There are some basic requirements for any virtual care platform, including ease of use and HIPAA compliance, but beyond that, we do not think the platform should be the focus. The majority of any organization’s effort should be focused on making sure their care philosophy shines through in the virtual experience.
For example, Vera’s advanced primary care (APC) model emphasizes human connection, empathy, and care for the bio, psycho, and social well-being of each member. Our model has been developed in this specific way because it is proven to drive positive health outcomes. This includes relational, individualized care that treats the whole person, instead of attempting to manage a list of symptoms.
The main focus of our virtual care approach is ensuring that the same aspects that make our model effective during in-person interactions translate to the screen or phone. Our belief is that, by creating a virtual care approach that builds on the strengths of our existing model, we will be able to meet members where they are and create a truly integrated care experience, regardless of how those members are receiving care.
Are you interested in finding out more about how Vera’s APC model is shifting the paradigms of healthcare? Download our eBook: Advanced Primary Care: The Front Line Of A Health Revolution.
Editor's Note: This post has been was originally published in October 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.