Although physicians are still struggling to be duly compensated for the breadth of virtual care, consumers are embracing this technology. In 2017, 66% of adults responding to an AmericanWell poll said they would be willing to see their doctor in a virtual visit.[i] Half of large employers say that implementing virtual care solutions is a top priority for their benefits in 2019.[ii]
These newer healthcare delivery models often deliver greater convenience at lower cost, competing with care formerly provided in the emergency department or physician’s office.
And compensation is progressing. Beginning this year through the Medicare physician fee schedule, three new reimbursement codes for remote patient monitoring are available, along with expanded and unrestricted telehealth fees, the reading of patient-generated videos and images, and new fees for patient virtual check-ins and electronic peer consults, for example.
Progressive health systems are taking note. After a study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) found no significant difference in outcomes between in-person and virtual visits for patients with hypertension, the hospitals expanded their programs to other patient populations.[iii]
Another leader, Carolinas Hospital System, has fully launched their virtual care services to patients at their eight hospitals.[i] They also offered free telehealth visits to residents impacted by Hurricane Florence in September 2018, enabling patients to receive treatment when hospital and road closures impacted access to care.[ii] Beyond the intrinsic value of relieving suffering, this move had strategic value, helping the system to increase the acceptance of virtual care among new users.
Virtual care enables savvy health systems to attract patients that otherwise would have gone to a competitor’s brick and mortar locations. And even without direct reimbursement, healthcare providers at risk for the cost of care can use virtual care to tackle convenience and access. Kaiser Permanente, a leading ‘payvider,’ has been a leader in virtual care, conducting over half of all visits virtually by 2016.[iii]
These movements coupled with the new CMS virtual care ecosystem fees are incenting providers that aren’t managing a fully capitated model to move towards virtual care.[iv]