Virtual Healthcare

In Newsletter Content by Brandon St. Clair

Imagine George Jetson with a bad head cold, unable to go to work, sitting in front of a computer telling it how sick he is.  The computer extends a little mechanical arm holding a thermometer and quickly takes his temperature.  Another mechanical arm takes his blood pressure, while another arm feels his forehead and pats him on the back. After the examination, two pills pop out of a hidden door and fly into his mouth.  The computer says, you only have a cold, swallow the pills, and call me in the morning.  After the virtual treatment is done, a bill is generated and flies toward poor old George.

A few years ago, the idea of having an online virtual visit, like George, would seem too futuristic and not feasible. Our past conditioning compelled us to set an office appointment and have the physician do a hands-on visit to evaluate our condition.  As we become more accustomed to our electronic lives, we now rely on our computers and internet for information and service. Health care is not much different. Of course, virtual visits can’t take care of all our health needs, but the positive effects are far reaching – from one-time visits for simple diagnosis to long term checkups for physical and mental health therapies.

Existing and new providers are now advertising the following, when you need care — anytime, day or night — or when your primary care provider is not available, virtual visits are open 24/7.  It’s a very convenient option.

Our vernacular has changed as well as our behavior, as we become more accustomed to these services. We now hear terms like TeleDoc, VirtualCare, Telehealth, or Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).  These programs help with anything from common colds to long term mental health programs. Contacting a professional virtually has become more convenient than ever and can give timely advice and care for minor health conditions.

Here is a list of health concerns that could be handled on a virtual call – abdominal pain, allergies, bladder/urinary tract infection, bronchitis, coughing, diarrhea, fever, migraine/headache, pinkeye, rash, seasonal flu, sinus problem, sore throat, stomachache, yeast infection, and much more. This is not a pleasant list to think about but imagine not having to travel or expose yourself to other’s infectious diseases while sitting in the doctor’s office.

In reality, many of our doctor visits only need a verbal or visual description so the physician can prescribe a pill or treatment, which can be called in and retrieved within minutes at a local pharmacy.  We may only need a quick assessment with some helpful advice, or even a follow up visit for a condition that is on the mend and only needs the progress observed. A lot of wasted time and cost can be avoided by using the virtual office, not to mention freeing up time for the physicians to handle more serious accidents or illnesses that cannot be treated virtually.

In addition to TeleDoc services, there are Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) which go even further in enhancing our lives.  We can seek assistance with many of the day-to-day struggles we may be experiencing.  EAP can assist with marriage, family, and relationship issues, emotional, personal and stress concerns, drug and alcohol abuse, healthy lifestyles, and work-life balance.

EAP sponsored by small and large businesses have delivered high patient engagement and positive outcomes, including a 50% decrease in depression score, 42% decrease in anxiety score, 32% decrease in social anxiety score, and an employee retention rate that is 15 times higher than other mental health apps.

Here’s a Doctor’s opinion, “Health plans provide an array of fresh solutions to individuals and employees that help address the rising volume of health and behavioral health challenges spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual options are definitely one of them.”

Another positive example of Telehealth is that 61% of people diagnosed with a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder has used behavioral virtual care for treatment. Of those, 83% are satisfied with using virtual care and 79% say it has made it easier for them to access care.

Virtual assistance has helped with the provider shortage, take some of the other barriers away, such as, the busy work schedules, loss of work time, office visit costs, and the stigma associated with some conditions. Virtual care may be able to break down those barriers by offering real-time audio or video sessions with a provider from home, work, or wherever else the employee can connect. Virtual care helps to streamline access to quality care for people in need, improve flexibility for both members and providers, and yield outcomes comparable to in-person visits.

United Healthcare talked about the 3 key takeaways about virtual care and digital tools:

  1. Virtual care may help streamline access to quality care for people in need, lower the total cost of care and improve flexibility for both members and providers.
  2. Almost 70% of organizations plan to emphasize mental health offerings, especially virtual care, and digital tools, over the next 2 years.
  3. Virtual behavioral coaching programs have delivered higher patient engagement and positive outcomes, including a 50% decrease in depression score.

George Jetson’s virtual home experience isn’t exactly like our TeleHealth or VirtualHealth today, but we are utilizing some of the concepts to better our lives; it’s here today and shows a very promising effect on our lives and health.  It’s definitely time to embrace.