In 2010, the US spent $2.7 trillion on healthcare, half of that amount being reserved for wages. In light of the facts mentioned, the US healthcare industry became one of the country’s most labor-intensive of all. There have been attempts to reduce spending over the years, however, policymakers and industry leaders didn’t succeed at reducing labor costs.
As opposed to other industries that opened up to digitalization and embraced technology to increase productivity and decrease labor costs, in healthcare, things didn’t improve in the last two decades. What’s worse is that the American Association of Medical Colleges estimates a shortage in primary care physicians of 31,000 by 2025.
Virtual health, an opportunity worth exploring
Is it possible to bend the cost curve and provide healthcare that is accessible, fast, and accurate? The key lies in the endless possibilities that virtual health can offer. Aging populations are increasing, with many of them fighting chronic illnesses. This means that the need to have health insurance is more acute now than ever; a solution that not many can afford if the health system remains outdated, slow, and bureaucratic.
Born out of a need to innovate and cater to the needs of the people, virtual health combines professional collaboration with clinical care via telehealth, telemedicine, and remote collaboration in order to bring together – in a virtual environment – patients, health professionals, clinicians, researchers, and care teams willing to support, coordinate, and provide health services.
The novelty factor of virtual health is that it fosters asynchronous, live clinical interactions, given that patient management and clinical practice is supported by a multitude of technologies. From collaboration and communication, all the way to digital devices and cognitive computing technologies, virtual health can truly disrupt a legacy-based system.
Serving the underserved, not just the entitled
The greatest potential of virtual health is that it can address the needs of the underserved. Virtual approaches can reach out to consumers who are incapable of going to a health facility for various reasons. Also, virtual health can broaden clinician capacity because by replacing physical tasks and labor with technology, institutions can remain more focused on providing care to patients.
The industry is ready for worldwide adoption of virtual health. Key factors are currently boosting stakeholder interest: increased demand & customer expectations, promising discoveries in advanced technologies, and core changes in both state and federal policies. By 2022, the virtual health market is estimated to reach $3.5 billion in revenue.
Less about technology, more about improving care delivery
As a new industry, virtual health doesn’t relate solely to technology and smart systems replacing people in healthcare, but about helping health providers improve the way they deliver care to patients. Its mission should be to switch the focus from physical, on-site all the way to the web. This way, virtual health can enter the scene to help relieve physicians of routine tasks and mundane administrative operations.
Furthermore, virtual health has the capacity to boost patient-provider collaboration and interaction, thus refining patient experience. At the same time, via advanced technologies, providers have a unique opportunity to reduce costs, increase engagement, improve clinical outcomes, and broaden the overall access to care through virtual-based health programs.
Potential benefits of virtual health
The average cost of a telehealth visit is between $40 and $50, whereas making an in-office appointment with a physician is estimated at $170. Via virtual medical assistants, hospitals can save time, thus streamlining patient visits and freeing nearly 47.8 million hours across the entire PCP workforce.
The demand for virtual health is increasing, too. A recent study pointed out that 77% of patients are open about making a virtual healthcare appointment. In the US, there are over 200 telemedicine networks providing connectivity to over 3,000 community health centers and clinics in suburban areas in need of ongoing medical education and specialty consultations.
In conclusion, virtual health has the best chances of becoming a standalone industry. In the years to come, it will go mainstream as increasingly more patients open up to embracing advanced technologies. The increasing customer demand and changing reimbursement models will most likely compel health providers to restructure the way they offer health care to the people. Little by little, virtual health will become an integrated part of the care delivery spectrum as more virtual health programs will emerge to disrupt and revolutionize an outdated system.