Michigan, like nearly every state, is in the midst of one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory.
The spike in patient visits has taxed healthcare organizations as they look for creative ways to handle the surge of patients. But for Spectrum Health, a 14-hospital system based in Grand Rapids, Mich., telemedicine has greatly reduced the strain on patients, staff and the organization overall.
About 50% of Spectrum’s 100 average daily virtual visits are related to flu symptoms, said Elizabeth Suing, a physician assistant who treats patients using telehealth platform Spectrum Health Now.
The use of telehealth to treat the flu allows emergency departments and physician offices to spend more time and resources on patients who appropriately require services because fewer patients are coming in with moderate cases. That saves money for the system and patients.
“We have fewer patients going to the ED or urgent care and it’s opened up access in our primary-care offices where they can see more patients for” chronic disease management), Suing said.
As of Jan. 23, Spectrum estimated that using telehealth saved patients and payers $657,359. Savings for patients accounted for $247,000 of that based on average out-of-pocket costs of ED, urgent-care and office visits. And there’s some evidence the patients who used virtual services would’ve sought care somewhere else in the system. According to a survey of patients who had flu-like symptoms and used a virtual visit between October 2019 and mid-January, 2.6% said they would’ve gone to the ED instead, 36.5% would’ve gone to their primary-care office, 42.7% would’ve used urgent care and 7.3% would not have sought care.