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COVID-19 caused a massive acceleration in the use of virtual health services and has helped expand access to care at a time when the ongoing pandemic has severely restricted patients’ ability to see their doctors. Virtual health technology is enabling healthcare organizations to reimagine how care is delivered and managed for the long term. From utilizing AI-assisted health bots to triage patient symptoms to extending virtual visits between physicians and their patients to improve patient engagement to applying advanced remote monitoring technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to create solutions that are enabling healthcare workers to deliver quality care to more people while keeping patients and providers safer. At our upcoming Healthcare Industry Digital Forum we’ve gathered a host of industry experts to discuss how virtual health is bringing innovative approaches on shaping the delivery of secure, equitable access to care.

According to a recent McKinsey & Co. article, healthcare providers reported 50 to 175 fold increases in telehealth patient volumes since the onset of the pandemic. This demonstrates the potential for virtual health services to improve care access and quality, patient outcomes, and healthcare system efficiency.

Virtual health has numerous advantages for patients and providers alike. For instance, by removing physical barriers to care, providers are able to extend their reach, especially for patients who live in rural areas. It can also provide preventive services that allow for patient education or wellness coaching regarding non-emergency health and wellness issues. With health becoming more digital, patients and their care givers can have more transparency and influence how, when, and where they’re treated. This can lead to more personalized and connected experiences, and save patients time and money while also enhancing their health outcomes.

Expanding virtual care into current care workflows and protocols can help providers to monitor and manage their patients’ care throughout their recovery following a long-term hospital visit or surgical procedure, or even be a substitute for in-person care delivery based on patient population needs, health organization capabilities, and resource availability. By eliminating numerous intangibles related to in-person consultations and treatment, providers can increase efficiency by seeing more patients with a greater degree of personal engagement in far less time. This new resource and expanded delivery models (virtual visits, secure virtual messaging, remote patient monitoring, etc.) can contribute to easing workloads and reducing stress—an important factor in our era of widespread clinician burnout.

Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH) began modernizing their virtual care programs when Psychological Therapy (IAPT), one of GMMH’s largest services, began delivering talking therapy support for people with mild, moderate, and moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression. Around 5,000 people were accessing face-to-face IAPT meetings in March 2020 when, almost overnight, the Trust found itself no longer able to offer those services. In response, GMMH clinicians and support staff were issued Microsoft Surface Pro devices which gave them the freedom to work from home without compromising control and security. Using Microsoft Teams, they moved from 10,000 in-person appointments per month to holding them all remotely via Microsoft Teams in two weeks. Moving forward, the Trust can now offer more choices to clients. The ability to access care without having to traverse the busy city region to reach a clinical location will make accessing support more comfortable for many service users battling anxiety-related issues, avoidance, or depression.

Virtual health can deliver more connected care options to patients

More than ever, being connected is critical to creating an individualized patient experience. Patients are actively seeking digital tools that allow them to be seen by their health provider without leaving their homes.

Putting virtual healthcare assistants in the hands of patients is one way that public health organizations, hospitals, and others are able to respond to inquiries and places more information in the hands of patients, helping them self-triage their next level of care.

Azure Health Bot is one solution that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help organizations build and deploy AI-powered virtual healthcare assistants that can be used to enhance processes, offer patients a powerful way to assess their care needs, and drive significant cost-reduction efforts. It comes with unique, built-in healthcare AI services, including a symptom checker and medical content from respected industry resources, as well as cutting-edge language understanding models that are specifically designed to make sense of complex medical and clinical terminology.

Virtual assistants cannot and are not intended to replace medical professionals. They cannot make a diagnosis or offer treatment. What they can do is help ease the burden on the healthcare system and help medical professionals make the most of their time.

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) or Remote Medical Monitoring (RMM) is another growing area of virtual health services that provides patients with a biometric or environmental monitoring device that can aid in the treatment of chronic diseases, or aid in the treatment of an illness or condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, in the U.S. six in ten adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease and four in ten adults have two or more.1 With treatment and management of chronic and mental health diseases taking up nearly 90 percent of the $3.3 trillion in U.S. healthcare2, more healthcare organizations are utilizing RMM as a way support their patients, but also reduce the costs of ongoing disease management. A recent Gartner report shared, by 2023, 60 percent of chronic disease pathways will involve Remote Medical Monitoring (RMM), up from 10 percent today.3

RPM can help to lower costs and improve a patient’s quality of life without the necessity of hospitalization. It provides easier access to caregivers from the comfort of their homes. In addition to the doctor’s care team being able to provide better treatment, patients are highly satisfied with utilizing telemonitoring to save time and travel.

Given the daily back and forth between the patient and caregivers, remote patient monitoring gives patients an expanded level of feedback on their health, which can lead to improved daily habits & routines, and this overall daily information with support can help make a significant difference in terms of their health outcomes.

Virtual health is at a tipping point

COVID-19 has disrupted many areas of health care delivery, in 10 years we may look back at this moment in our history as the catalyst for accelerating the breadth and the use of virtual health services. While many organizations used virtual health to meet their most urgent short-term needs during the crisis, there is an opportunity for organizations to reassess their virtual health strategies, governance models, workforce engagement, and infrastructure in place for long-term success.

This evolution of engaged patient care will mean the proliferation of virtual health and services to deliver preventative, ongoing care management, and individualized patient programs that help promote better health and wellness outcomes. Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare helps healthcare organizations integrate secure virtual health capabilities by creating workflow cohesive artificial intelligence (AI) health bots, virtual visits, and continuous patient monitoring into the care journey and helps expand services to more patient encounters and new medical specialties.

Our continued goal is empowering global healthcare organizations to find connected, innovative ways to create better experiences, insights, and care. Join us at our upcoming Healthcare Industry Digital Forum on March 30, 2021, about how virtual health is expanding access to care for patients and bringing more opportunities across healthcare organizations.


References:

1 About Chronic Diseases, CDC

2 Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases, CDC.

3 Gupta, A., Gartner Market Insight: Target U.S. IoT Remote Medical Monitoring Market Now to Attain Market GrowthRefreshed 19 February 2021, Published 23 October 2019 – ID G00387865