Can the health care system deliver?
Improved technology, increased access to smart devices, consumer expectations, evolving state and federal policies, and the transition to value-based care are all driving virtual health adoption. Evidence is mounting that virtual health can improve outcomes in certain populations by reducing length of hospital stays, improving the experience among chronically ill patients, and decreasing readmission rates.1
Adoption of virtual health could extend the reach of physicians and other care providers, enable clinicians to work at the top of their license, and make it easier for patients to access the health care system. Offering convenient, easy-to-access care options—and keeping patients out of waiting rooms—can translate to a better patient experience. Virtual health can also help improve medication adherence, health outcomes tracking, and patient accountability.2
Consumers of all ages are using technology in all aspects of their lives, and health care is no exception.
- Outside of health care, most consumers shop online (92 percent) and use online or mobile banking (83 percent). Although health care needs can be complex, 59 percent of consumers use technology to refill prescriptions, and 42 percent use it to measure health and fitness. Consumers’ use of technology for health care purposes has increased since 2015, particularly for measuring fitness and monitoring health issues.
- Among respondents who said they were interested in tracking their health, consumers of all ages use digital assistants to receive medication alerts (75 percent). Younger consumers use digital assistants to monitor health (81 percent).
Health systems should keep technology-savvy seniors in mind when implementing virtual health strategies.
- While older consumers tend to be less interested in using technology for health care than younger consumers, health systems and health plans should note that some seniors (defined in our survey as those born before 1946) are technology-savvy and interested in using technology for future health care needs.
- About half of the consumers who use technology to track fitness and health improvement goals say they share this information with their doctors. Seniors from this group are more likely to share their tracked information with a doctor (67 percent) than are millennials (59 percent).
Many health care organizations have already implemented a virtual health strategy, but the elements of these strategies vary. Moreover, virtual health care is still in the early stages of development. Now is likely the time for health systems to put the right infrastructure and strategies in place and help ensure that appropriate technologies and platforms are integrated into the care delivery model. Health systems should also train their workforces to offer virtual services in a way that keeps the patient–clinician relationship at the center. This can help health systems offer a seamless experience for patients whether care is virtual or in-person.
Virtual health is a core component of value-based care
There are many compelling reasons for hospitals and health systems to implement virtual health. Leading the list are technological advances that are improving the ability of people to connect with each other.3 Patients, health systems, clinicians, and health plans can connect with each other through a variety of channels based on their communication and interaction preferences.
Among the most compelling reasons for the continued growth of virtual health is the mounting evidence of improved health outcomes, cost savings, and better access and increased convenience for patients. Studies have demonstrated that virtual health strategies can lead to a 14-percent reduction in length of hospital stays, and remote monitoring of patients (once they leave the hospital) can cut readmission rates. Adoption of virtual health could extend the reach of physicians and other care providers and could make care more convenient for patients. However, as health systems and health plans implement and refine their virtual health strategies, it can be critical that they consider the importance of integrating their virtual offerings with the patient’s existing care team. The information collected from a virtual visit should be shared seamlessly with the patient’s care team and combined into an integrated electronic health record.
Consumers of all ages use technology in all aspects of their lives, and health care is no exception
Consumers of all ages shop online (92 percent) and use online or mobile banking (83 percent) more often than for health-related activities such as refilling a prescription (59 percent) or monitoring fitness and health improvement goals (42 percent). This could be because some people don’t have as many health care needs. It could be the apps and other solutions are not as user-friendly or effective. Certainly, health care needs are often complex: getting a diagnosis or making a treatment decision is typically more challenging than booking a flight.
While smartphones, apps, and websites may not be able to help consumers take care of every health care need, technology can help them monitor their health and make informed decisions about their care. As technology improves, and as consumer demand increases, we can envision a world where technology can help with accurate diagnoses or provide the information needed to monitor and treat certain conditions.
Currently, wearables and apps can help consumers track their health and fitness (for example, sleep quality, dietary goals, exercise), monitor vital statistics (blood pressure, pulse, breathing function), receive medication alerts or reminders, and measure, record, and transmit data about medications or treatments. According to our survey results, consumers’ use and interest in these technologies has grown in every survey category. For example, more consumers are measuring fitness and health improvement (42 percent in 2018, up from 32 percent in 2016). Other categories saw less of an increase, but more consumers overall are using technology to monitor their health, refill prescriptions, receive medication alerts, and measure and transmit data about their health than in prior years.
Millennials (people born between 1982 to 1997) are far more likely to use technology (websites, smartphone/tablet applications, digital medical assistants, and personal medical devices or fitness monitors) for health care purposes than are people who were born before 1946 (see figure 1). However, our survey results identified a segment of seniors who use technology in other aspects of their lives and are interested in using it to meet their health care needs.