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Over 96 percent of health systems plan to expand virtual care, new survey shows

Data shows slow industry adoption, as close to 42 percent of respondents said their virtual care solution did not integrate with their EHR.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Virtual health is slated for a major increase over the next 12 months, according to a new study.

The increase is primarily driven by the enhanced efficiency that virtual care offers providers, according to survey conducted by virtual software company Zipnosis.

The 2018 on-demand virtual care benchmark survey shows that over 96 percent of health systems plan to expand their virtual care offerings, with only 3.5 percent answering they had no firm plans.

A major challenge is EHR integration. Nearly 42 percent of respondents said their virtual care solution did not integrate with their EHR.

WHY THIS MATTERS

While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services originally had concerns that telehealth would increase overutilization and lead to higher costs, most providers and health plans view virtual care as a way to decrease expenses.

The majority of survey respondents - more than 43 percent - reported the average work time for virtual visits was between 1 and 5 minutes, whereas the median visit length for in-person primary care visits is nearly 16 minutes, according to National Institutes of Health data provided by Zipnosis.

Providers are or will soon be benefiting from new CMS flexibilities for reimbursement of telehealth in traditional Medicare and for Medicare Advantage plans.

In a November report, CMS said telehealth utilization for fee-for-service Medicare members has increased slowly and is being  primarily used to treat beneficiaries with mental health diagnoses, and to provide office and other outpatient visits. Research has found that telehealth has the potential to improve access to care, CMS said in the report.

The technological capacity to provide telehealth has advanced considerably, as has patient and provider acceptance of telecommunications technology as a method of care delivery, the report said. 

THE STUDY'S FINDINGS

The most commonly selected expansion options were expanding use cases and specialties for patient-initiated visits.

Behavioral health topped the list of areas that respondents would like to see virtual care address (nearly 40 percent), followed by chronic disease detection and management (16 percent).

The use of phone consults is on the decline, while real-time chat is on the rise.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents report wanting to add real-time chat, video and asynchronous capabilities to their modes of care.

Simple conditions are the most commonly treated. The vast number of respondents use virtual care to treat simple and more common conditions, with more than 50 percent reporting that they use their virtual care solutions to treat upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, cough and pink eye.

THE TREND

According to a recent JAMA study, although telemedicine has grown steadily over the past few years, the majority of patients are still opting for in-person visits with their provider.

THEIR TAKE

While only 21 percent of respondents said EHR integration was a challenge, this is an area that can help vastly help improve the patient experience and should be a key focus moving forward, Zipnosis said.

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW

The survey was based responses from 56 organizations ranging in size from no hospitals to more than 15, operating in all 50 states.

Zipnosis' business specializes in offering a virtual care platform that pairs traditional telemedicine with next-generation online virtual operations.

Zipnosis will elaborate on the study findings at its Booth 7851 at HIMSS19 Global Conference & Exhibition, February 11-15, in Orlando, Florida.

ON THE RECORD

"We believe health systems are in a unique position to increase adoption of virtual care and expand access to quality healthcare. As the data in our report indicates, in order to be successful in these efforts, virtual care providers and health systems alike need to focus on improving the patient experience and continuing to educate both the patient and provider," said Jon Pearce, CEO of Zipnosis.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com

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