Vital Signs Blog

Kaiser virtual-visits growth shows the technology's potential

Many of Kaiser Permanente's regional systems are already performing greater than 50% of visits virtually—through mobile, or secure messaging, or video, Jamie Ferguson, the system's vice president of health IT strategy and policy, said at an IT event this week.

That level of virtual visit usage demonstrates that Kaiser is picking up the pace of virtual visit technology. Earlier in the year, Permanente Medical Group CEO Robert Pearl wrote in Health Affairs that virtual visits had grown from 4.1 million in 2008 to about 10.5 million by 2013 in Kaiser Permanente Northern California. And Pearl elaborated that he expected the number of virtual visits to exceed the number of in-person visits by 2016 in Northern California; Ferguson's remarks show that Pearl's prediction is likely on-target if not already fulfilled.

The system is also providing retail and remote care, which will allow telemedicine access to physicians and on-site access to nurses, in California branches of retailer Target.

Kaiser's increasing use of virtual visits dovetails with a broader tech trend in healthcare. Mayo Clinic, for example, is piloting a kiosk to provide telemedicine to employees at its Albert Lea, Minn., campus. A recent report from consultancy Deloitte estimates that 75 million virtual visits will have occurred in North America during 2014.

Ferguson also discussed a recent project the system had undergone to transfer patient data with an Italian hospital, in which the pair were able to exchange both translated and untranslated data in real-time. That raises the possibility that the system could aid its patients should they have a medical emergency when traveling abroad.

That project involved the query of a physician. Ferguson hopes consumers eventually could download their own data and exchange it with foreign medical providers as well.

Follow Darius Tahir on Twitter: @dariustahir


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