As an executive of a large health system constantly working to improve patient care, I see firsthand how providers increasingly must provide patients with the care they need, right when they need it. This means pursuing powerful, transformative care delivery solutions.
Making virtual care a widespread reality
One such solution is virtual care. In-person consultations with a care provider are not always necessary—and patients and providers can benefit from the availability of virtual care.
Virtual care increases patient access in a number of ways. Using telephone or video consultations, patients can receive a diagnosis, prescription and follow-up instructions at any time, without having to struggle to get out of bed or drive to a physician's office. It is particularly helpful for busy patients with low-acuity conditions, and it can also bring needed care to those in remote locations, as evidenced in a recent study in the journal Academic Medicine, which revealed that only 4.8% of newly qualified doctors move into rural areas.
Surgeons are increasingly seeing the benefits of virtual care for expanding access to post-discharge care after a surgical operation. Studies have shown that checking in with patients following surgery reduces hospital readmissions—saving patients untold stress, suffering and substantial costs.
For providers who decide to implement a virtual-only practice, potential cost savings can be achieved by avoiding the start-up costs of a brick-and-mortar operation. Instead, providers can capitalize on existing community resources such as libraries, schools and community centers, which can be transformed into temporary virtual consultation rooms with computers and teleconferencing equipment.
As with any shift in care delivery, there are potential challenges to consider when adopting virtual care, particularly regulatory issues and changes in how we think about care. It is crucial for providers to understand which patients can be effectively treated virtually. Determining how to transfer patient records across different systems for virtual consult referrals is also critical.
Yet, these challenges should not serve as roadblocks, because virtual care is an undeniably powerful resource that will become increasingly relevant as demand for care continues to rise.
Ken Krakaur is vice president of Sentara Healthcare, Norfolk, Va.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.