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The Use of Virtual Health

By November 5, 2015Commentary

Telemedicine is apparently too generic a name so we have to call it “virtual health” now, or at least some consultants do.  Whatever you name it, telemedicine can be very beneficial to the health system, with the potential to rationalize capacity, make scarce resources available in a wider geographic area and lower unit costs.  Consultant Accenture offers a brief analysis of virtual health’s potential.  (Accenture Article)   As the article appropriately points out, in health care, wages account for more than half of total spending.  People, especially in health care, tend to be very expensive.  To the extent that technology can make expensive clinicians more efficient and can substitute for in-person work, unit costs will go down.  Accenture finds that telemedicine has the capability to shift some tasks to consumers (we are all familiar with how this works in the banking and airline and other industries), increasing patient engagement and improving care coordination.   Accenture goes on to give several examples of how telemedicine/virtual health could transform the delivery of medical care.  One is a typical primary care visit, where Accenture suggests that as much as $7 billlion annually can be saved by having patients electronically provide information and even biometrics from connected devices prior to the visit, making the actual in-person visit more effective.  And for most patients with chronic illnesses, follow-up care could occur remotely, by video or phone, again with information being collected and shared electronically.  In hypertension alone, Accenture estimates that $300 million a year could be saved by using evisits for followup.  Self management of many chronic illnesses could save another $2 billion annually, as new devices and software make it easier for patients to track and manage symptoms, utilizing clinicians only when necessary.  The article portrays a reasonable opportunity for realistic savings, one that Accenture will obviously be happy to help providers and payers move toward!

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