The coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic has altered many aspects of life over the past few years such as our economy, society, workforce, and healthcare. While the pandemic has presented the U.S. healthcare systems with unprecedented challenges it has also presented greater opportunities for the future of remote care.
Although virtual care has been considered a key component of a future healthcare delivery system, providers, patients, and payers were slow to adopt this change. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, virtual care has quickly been adapted across the country. While moving quickly to keep staff and patients safe, caregivers shifted to virtual care which helped bring to light the benefits of a remote care model. As we move into the “new normal” of healthcare, it’s exciting to see the many potentials for virtual care across the care continuum. Strategic evaluation and planning will be crucial to proper implementation of remote care programs.
Prior to the pandemic, 56.4% of Americans did not feel the quality of care provided by virtual care could match in-person care. Recent surveys now show almost 80% of Americans believe it is possible to receive the same quality of care virtually as in-person care.1 Americans are also now more open to telehealth visits. In March of 2020 only 19.5% of Americans had attended a telehealth appointment but by March of 2021 that number jumped to 61.05%.2
In the past two years, the demand for virtual care has increased because of the convenience and accessibility. Patients do not have to take time off work or commute in order to see a clinician. Also, there are more clinicians and specialist available to patients who may not have been able to reach them before the shift to virtual care. Furthermore, viral spread is reduced for patients and staff, increasing safety for all parties involved.
For providers, virtual care improves access to more people regardless of geographic location, allowing for a larger patient load without overburdening providers or staff. Properly implemented virtual care solutions do not add to the workflow. Another benefit to providers that was made permanent during COVID-19 is increased telehealth coverage for a number of current procedural terminology (CPT) codes. These reimbursements have had a large impact on providers’ decisions to implement virtual care into their practices.
Overall, the shift to virtual care was taking place far before the pandemic, albeit at a much slower pace. The pandemic accelerated this virtual shift, just as it did in many other workforces. Many workplaces moved their normal in-person work to remote or hybrid work and now health care is doing the same. Clinicians are satisfied with the move to virtual care because their patients are satisfied. Virtual care is eliminating many of the barriers surrounding healthcare and attracting more patients, providers, and payers. While we are all trying to get back to “normal” since the start of the pandemic, healthcare’s normal is now includes virtual care.
The next generation of virtual care must continue to improve the patient’s experience of access, outcomes, and affordability while comfortably fitting within providers’ existing workflows.