It’s been almost two years since the COVID-19 virus catapulted the world into a pandemic. The healthcare industry continues to face numerous obstacles because of it, including hospitals filled to capacity with patients and a shortage of clinicians available to care for all of them. The physicians and nurses dealing with COVID-19 continue to experience burnout, with almost 30 percent of healthcare workers considering leaving their profession altogether.

Virtual health has been utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic to assist in meeting the needs of patients while sustaining revenue for hospitals, health systems and physician practice. Roughly 60 percent of patients experienced their first virtual visit during the pandemic, and about  90 percent of physicians believe it’s beneficial in terms of increased access, communication and satisfaction.

A Top Technology Trend

One of the most widely-used forms of virtual care, telehealth, has increased at levels 38X higher than before the pandemic, ranging from 13-17 percent of visits across all specialties. This growth in telehealth use is the result of three primary factors:

  • Increased consumer willingness to use telehealth
  • Increased provider willingness to use telehealth
  • Regulatory changes enabling greater access and reimbursement

The virtual care market isn’t forecast to face any major declines anytime soon. The projected market growth for telehealth is $396.76 billion by 2027, and the global market for remote patient monitoring (RPM) is predicted to be worth over $1.7 billion by 2027.

The Business Group on Health, a non-profit organization that represents large employers’ views and perspectives on health policy issues, lists virtual healthcare as one of the five top health trends of 2022 and postulates that it will increasingly be integrated with in-person care. That’s not surprising, as one report found that almost 25 percent of patients stated they’d be using both virtual and in-person care following the Covid-19 pandemic. Other research shows that between 40 and 60 percent of consumers express interest in a set of broader virtual health solutions, such as a “digital front door” or lower-cost virtual-first health plan.

When asked about their virtual care investment priorities for 2022, healthcare executives surveyed cited their top has improving member experience (65 percent), expanding access to care (59 percent) and acquiring new members (37 percent). Those priorities also match their top investments.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is promoting increased use of virtual care technologies, specifically telehealth and telecommunications, through its Calendar Year (CY) 2022 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) final rule. The rule is designed to encourage expanded use of virtual care to provide behavioral healthcare service along with encouraging growth in its diabetes prevention program and boosting payment rates for vaccine administration.

Improved Access to Quality Healthcare

Virtual care offers flexibility to providers, including those reporting high levels of burnout, by enabling them when necessary to conduct visits away from their office. It allows them to see more patients in less time, resulting in increased reimbursement and patient satisfaction, and quickly and cost-effectively communicate with other physicians on patient care.

Clinicians can use virtual care to accurately record clinical data and support consumer-directed care and value-based models, even with staffing efficiencies. Financially, some experts estimate that uses of virtual care in annual patient visits, ongoing patient management and self-care could generate an economic value of approximately $10 billion annually across the United States health system.

How does virtual care benefit patients? It provides them with 24/7 access to healthcare, reduced appointment and in-office wait times, more private access to mental health resources, less costly emergency care and improved understanding of post-hospitalization care plans. For residents living in rural communities, it mitigates the need for travel to access both preventive and medical care and gives them better access to healthcare specialists.

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