Virtual medicine offers glimpse of health care’s future

Sept. 10, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Avera.

When Mandy Bell spoke to a group of young professionals recently about the future of health care, her message made it clear that in many ways the future is close at hand.

“It won’t be long – and in a way, it’s already here – when health care consumers will visit the doctor virtually from the comfort of their own couch,” she said.

“With virtual visits becoming more and more commonplace for anyone with a smartphone or tablet, health care is now coming to the consumer as opposed to the other way around.”

Bell, who is the innovation officer for Avera eCARE®, knows as well as anyone that health care truly doesn’t have bounds anymore.

The days of spending several days in the hospital for a surgical procedure are changing rapidly, she said.

The thought of rural consumers of health care needing to travel miles to see a specialist or simply receive medical care has become more of an afterthought and will continue to trend in that direction.

eCARE began in 1993 with telemedicine consults between physicians and patients. Since then, eCARE has grown to include ICU, Pharmacy, Emergency, Senior Care, Correctional Health, School Health, AveraNOW, Hospitalist, Specialty Clinic and the newest addition – Behavioral Health. This telemedicine network serves over 450 sites in 31 states, and its growth is only expected to continue, Bell said.

“Of course, people will still need to visit their providers from time to time and have their medical and surgical procedures performed in a health care setting, usually on a same-day or outpatient basis,” she said.

“Rapidly advancing technology, however, will mean consumers will be able to communicate with their health care providers and have regular checkups virtually.”

In a recent study, 71 percent of millennials want to use a mobile app to book appointments, and 74 percent prefer to see a doctor virtually. There are already consumer devices that connect online with health care providers to help check a patient’s blood pressure, oxygen levels and heart rate, plus an otoscope to look into the throat, nose and ears – all via a secure network.

“We’ve been behind the curve in health care when it comes to utilizing the vast technology that’s now available,” Bell said. “We’re catching up now, though, and I believe Avera is leading the charge, especially when it comes to virtual medicine.”

eCARE’s guiding principles include: Improve Access to Care, Improve Care and Outcomes, Improve Workforce Sustainability and Lower Costs.

Using technology, eCARE reaches some sites that most people may be unaware of such as schools and prisons. Avera eCARE can help reduce costs for those institutions while keeping kids in school for assessments and managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, and reducing costly transfers for inmates.

“Health care needs to be able to adapt to these new changes and attitudes within different demographic groups,” Bell said.

“We have to get on board with wearable technology, home medical devices to help with online visits and much more. The landscape is changing and, I believe, Avera Health is equipped to meet these new changes. We are perhaps better positioned than most health care systems simply because we were an extremely early adopter among health care systems.”

A next step is use artificial intelligence, or AI, which is already being used by medical science in ways that include guiding cancer treatments and predicting risk for suicide and self-harm.

The main obstacle in the near term is simply reimbursement for these services. Avera eCARE services would not be the most robust telemedicine system in the world without the generosity of grants and benefactors such as The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

“Hopefully state and federal legislators will get on board with reimbursing telemedicine providers once they realize that it truly improves patient safety and quality, and saves both the patient and the provider money,” Bell said.

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Virtual medicine offers glimpse of health care’s future

“Health care is now coming to the consumer as opposed to the other way around.” Wondering about the future of health care? This is what it could look like.

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