How can the industry and individual health organizations bend the cost curve in a meaningful way, particularly at a time when chronically ill and aging patient populations are growing, and more consumers have health insurance than ever before?
Virtual health offers a compelling answer. By shifting some work to patients, replacing labor with technology, and automating tasks, virtual health can streamline clinician work, decrease demand for PCPs and focus clinician time in areas where their training and experience have the greatest value.
Virtual health can make a real difference across many common primary care scenarios—but not at the exclusion of in-person care. Both are equally important and complementary, the best mix depending upon the nature of the encounter.
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Healthcare is one of the most labor intensive of all industries—with wages accounting for more than half of all healthcare spending in the United States.
Healthcare leaders and policymakers have worked to reduce healthcare spending for years. It has become increasingly clear that cost reduction strategies focused on utilization and quality improvement will fall short if they do not lower the cost of labor per unit of service.
The pressure to change is only increasing. Unlike other industries where technology has supported productivity gains, healthcare has made no such strides in two decades. What’s more, looming clinician shortages compound clinician cost challenges.
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Virtual health can balance the clinician demand/capacity equation. Virtual health combines clinical care and professional collaboration. It uses telemedicine, telehealth and collaboration at-a-distance to connect clinicians, patients, care teams and health professionals to:
Provide health services
Support patient self-management
Coordinate care across the care continuum
Specific to physician-patient encounters, virtual health enables live and asynchronous clinical interactions, clinical practice and patient management supported by a wide range of communication, collaboration and cognitive computing technologies along with digital devices and data.
Consider how virtual health approaches create potential time savings and economic value in several primary care scenarios. These are just a few of the many examples of the potential of virtual health to make a real difference in healthcare:
The typical office visit: Using virtual health approaches to reduce time spent gathering patient data and considering treatment options before an exam can streamline in-person encounters. Accenture analysis shows that applying virtual health to annual ambulatory patient encounters can save each US PCP an average of five minutes per encounter. This is a time savings equivalent to as many as 37,000 PCPs—or 18 percent of the PCP workforce—with an economic value of more than $7 billion.
Ongoing patient management: eVisits are asynchronous clinical exchanges between physicians and patients via secure messaging. In the case of hypertension management, Accenture analysis shows that if each patient has one in-person annual physical with half of the remaining hypertension-focused physician encounters converted to eVisits, the time savings could be the equivalent of 1,500 PCPs—roughly 1 percent of the workforce—with an approximate value of $300 million.
Patient self-management: Virtual health can support people with chronic conditions to self-manage their conditions to remain medically stable. Accenture analysis reveals that a care model of an annual physician exam and technology-enabled self-management the rest of the year can save time equivalent to approximately 24,000 PCPs—representing 11 percent of the workforce—for a value of almost $2 billion annually.
The health system view: Consider a large regional health system or independent practice association with approximately 1,800 affiliated or employed PCPs. Accenture analysis shows that an average of five minutes saved across all ambulatory annual encounters can release almost $63 million in physician capacity, the equivalent of more than 320 practicing PCPs.
Virtual health can reinvent clinician and patient interactions—and create clinician capacity worth billions of dollars.
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The gold standard of care will be the best combination of in-person and virtual health approaches that support sound clinical practice, continuity of care and episodic clinical needs as well as ongoing care for those with chronic conditions.
The industry as a whole, as well as individual organizations, must act now to integrate virtual health models into their everyday clinical practice. Only then will healthcare begin to address the looming cost and labor crises impacting the industry at national and organization levels.
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Virtual health: How eHealth is shaping the domestic and global landscape
Accenture's Virtual Health video series explores how eHealth impacts payers and providers—as well as how healthcare IT advances affect the domestic and global healthcare landscape.VIEW VIDEOS
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