By Jon Pearce

Technology is driving the future of care delivery, and it is important for the healthcare industry to stay current with these innovative solutions—so critical, in fact, that it can affect a health system’s organizational success. Faced with the rising tide of consumerism in patient populations, the increasing competition from traditional and non-traditional healthcare companies, and the fast-moving transition to value-based care, healthcare entities are looking to technology—including virtual care—to answer these challenges.

Specifically, being successful in this new age of technology-driven care requires health systems to build a seamless, comprehensive digital health ecosystem. This ecosystem needs to support the health systems’ overall goals, including enhanced patient access, continuity of care, streamlining processes like billing and claims, easy patient visit scheduling, and top-of-the-line patient experience—all while improving patient outcomes.

Today, health systems need to develop a digital health strategy that employs technologies working in sync with one another to support the continuum of care. Without this strategic guidance, they may not see gaps, including the virtual care-shaped hole, in their digital health ecosystem. So, here’s what healthcare professionals—particularly HTMs—need to know about virtual care.

Aligning Virtual Care with Your Growth Strategy

Adding virtual care to a digital health strategy is a vital component to a health system’s overall organizational success and growth. While every health system is different, with unique cultures, competitive environments, and goals, all providers face similar challenges, as the healthcare industry shifts to a value-based care model.

When it comes to health system strategic growth planning, however, virtual care may be overlooked. Still, incorporating virtual care into the digital health ecosystem and strategy can help maximize strengths and capitalize on opportunities while minimizing weaknesses and mitigating external threats.

With virtual care as part of the overall strategy, health systems can offer patients convenient online access to internal clinicians while also helping to increase patient engagement and satisfaction through digital tools that fit into their everyday lives. Patients get peace of mind as well as convenience, since virtual care uses structured data and organic clinical decision support to help maintain high levels of clinical quality.

In addition to improving the patient experience and outcomes, virtual care helps health systems attract and retain new patients, particularly among the younger generations who have expressed interest in finding new ways to fit care into their everyday lives, by pairing 24/7 convenience with high-quality care.

Moreover, by implementing virtual care, health systems can work to minimize internal constraints and silence some of healthcare’s biggest concerns. With population health as a key initiative for many health systems, the importance of lowering costs while also improving patient outcomes is paramount.

Virtual care supports this by offering increased efficiency and scalability over traditional telemedicine technologies. With providers able to diagnose and treat patients in a fraction of the time required by an in-person visit or video or phone consultation, more patients can be treated by fewer providers. This efficiency also enables health systems to lower the cost of delivering care, creating a delivery channel that provides care to patients in value-based reimbursement populations.

The fully digital technology also supports continuity across the healthcare care continuum, from acute problems to chronic disease management, as it seamlessly integrates with existing solutions like electronic medical records and patient portals.

Digital Health Plans Go Virtual

In order to meet today’s digital requirements, many health systems erroneously look to telemedicine; however, they will ultimately find that this approach will not fill the void of their virtual care-shaped hole. After all, telemedicine solutions rely on outdated, siloed technology that is connected to cords, carts, and call centers—certainly not modern technology.

Further, traditional telemedicine offers an analog, transactional approach to care that closely mimics the in-clinic experience in the amount of time a provider spends with a patient. With these technologies falling short in the areas of efficiency, scalability, and quality, the healthcare industry must look to innovations such as virtual care to address these issues while also adhering to health systems’ digital strategies.

Virtual care creates a digital, value-based approach to care that incorporates the benefits of traditional telemedicine, but goes further by offering enhanced efficiency, consistent patient outcomes, and proven, measurable returns on investment to health systems. Virtual care also improves the patient’s experience, giving patients the freedom to seek care wherever they happen to be—whether at home, at work, or out and about—without having to worry about connectivity issues or privacy concerns, all while receiving the same benefits and quality as a face-to-face interaction.

In the digital age, virtual care is a delivery channel that supports a large breadth of services, ranging from low-acuity conditions to more complex services like chronic care management, to primary and specialty care. Virtual care also complements other elements in a digital health system, making it stronger and more unified.

Moreover, by pairing online diagnostic tools with e-prescribing, virtual care fosters convenient, complete treatment for a variety of conditions. Plus, it gives both healthcare providers and patients the opportunity to become more comfortable with online care, making it easier to accept digital health technology in higher-acuity situations.

The Promise of Digital Technology

With consumer buy-in a driving force behind technology adoption and the shifting demands of the dynamic healthcare industry, health systems need to employ current, innovative technologies to meet their digital health strategy, as well as the organization’s overall growth plan. After all, the American Telemedicine Association reports that more than 1 million virtual doctor visits took place in 2015 and technology researcher Gartner anticipates that approximately 40% of primary care visits will be virtual next year.

In summation, patient demand for virtual care is here—and providers are beginning to see that. With direct-to-consumer telemedicine companies vying for patients and a growing number of health systems launching virtual care solutions to meet growing patient demand, virtual care is the vital missing piece to a health system’s success and overall digital health strategy.

Jon Pearce is CEO and co-founder of Zipnosis. Questions and comments can be directed to chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected]