Virtual health offers great promise to transform care delivery by meeting patients where they are—on the road, at home, in a long-term care facility, or a remote intensive care unit—and expanding access to clinical expertise. As the health care landscape evolves, organizations should keep the patient at the center of the business model. This means making the patient-physician interaction seamless, convenient, and high quality.
How the virtual health landscape is shifting in a rapidly changing world
From January 15–February 14, 2020, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions conducted its biennial survey of US physicians, which featured questions around physicians’ experience and perspectives on virtual health. This survey was conducted before COVID-19 significantly impacted the United States. Before COVID-19, most physicians were not intending to use many virtual health solutions, and those who were using virtual health were for the most part only gradually increasing their usage when compared to 2018. Few physicians in the survey reported clinical advantage as a top benefit to virtual health. When the US began responding to the pandemic, many of those orthodoxies appeared to change. The period of March through May 2020 saw an unprecedented shift to virtual health—fueled by regulatory flexibility and necessity. Even though our survey was fielded before the public health crisis, some of the challenges that physicians raised about using these technologies prior to the pandemic will continue to be instructive as health care systems develop their new virtual health strategies.
Our survey showed that before COVID-19 was impacting the country:
- Physicians were gradually increasing their use of virtual health. We saw gradual increases in physician-to-physician consultations (from 17% in 2018 to 22% in early 2020) and virtual visits (from 14% in 2018 to 19%). Remote care monitoring and coaching also saw a small increase. One exception was the increase in the proportion of physicians communicating with patients through the electronic health record (EHR), which grew from 38% in 2018 to 63% in early 2020.
- Most physicians (90%) said essential factors for virtual health were absent in their practices. Physicians deemed training on how to improve practice revenue with virtual health, adequate reimbursement for virtual health, and understanding regulations around virtual health essential, but lacking. Similarly, 85% of physicians cited training around improving skills such as conveying empathy in virtual visits as also essential, but absent in their practice.
- Physicians were looking ahead to radical interoperability, changing business models, and an increased emphasis on prevention and well-being. Physicians were betting on radical interoperability in the next 5–10 years, and on the streamlining of data and integration of data from wearables. Most physicians believe that the next generation of doctors should have a good understanding of the business of medicine and a robust knowledge base in prevention and well-being.
Since we fielded our survey, COVID-19 has dramatically reshaped the landscape. Data from the spring of 2020 shows more physicians are using virtual health1 (with some practices reporting a 50%–70% increase in use).2 As the initial response phase passes, virtual health is poised to become a central part of the health care delivery system. Patients and clinicians who have experienced the convenience of virtual health might not want to go back to in-person care for many types of visits.
Based on our survey data and early lessons learned from the virtual health landscape during the first few months of COVID-19, we offer recommendations on how health care stakeholders can facilitate and increase virtual health adoption. These include:
- Prioritizing training and continued learning: Virtual health is driving changes in how physicians communicate and treat patients, and has implications on workflow, practice revenue, and medical liability. But most surveyed physicians said critical information and training were not available in their practice.
- Integrating data and automating processes: It is critical that virtual visits and other virtual solutions are as easy for the clinician and the patient as traditional encounters. Almost all (84%) physicians said that ease of use and seamless integration of technology are essential, yet 82% said these elements were lacking in their practice. Our survey shows that physicians expect integrated data at scale in the coming years. Physicians are going to likely need support evolving operations and workflow as virtual health accelerates.
- Redefining traditional “best practices” and scaling up what worked: During the early response phase of the COVID-19 crisis, many health systems and physician practices rapidly implemented processes around virtual health. While consumers might be forgiving of flawed experiences with virtual visits or virtual health solutions during the crisis, they will likely expect refinement with time. As organizations move out of the initial response phase and begin to recover and ultimately thrive3 in the coming months and years, they should work to thoughtfully consider which traditional best practices aren’t working anymore, and scale up new learnings that will help them transition to a longer-term approach.
Download Deloitte’s full report to explore survey data and recommendations on how health care stakeholders can facilitate and increase virtual health adoption.
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