For the rural population, and for non-rural citizens who still face overwhelming challenges to accessing consistent, quality care, virtual care can transcend the benefits of convenience and ease and become a truly life-changing, sometimes life-saving solution..
“Thank you for making something like this available to me,” wrote a recent patient I
treated virtually. “My old PCP just left my state for a new one, and if I hadn’t been able to reach you and explain my history, I would have had to attempt to reach my old doctor all the way in Dallas. That’s a real pain, especially for a known and long-lasting condition that simply needs attention from time to time.”
The more work I do as a practitioner of virtual medicine, the more stories like this come up. As much as it can make my day to hear how I’ve helped someone, it equally frustrates me to be reminded of how difficult our healthcare system at large makes it for people to access a doctor who can help them with their needs. And perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in it is for rural Americans and others who face access challenges that aren’t measured in miles.
As rural hospitals close and patients are forced to drive further and further for care, it’s no surprise that preventable diseases are deadlier in rural America than in urban areas, according to a CDC report. However, the problem extends past the hospital itself when we think about the providers who depend on these brick and mortar establishments to serve their communities. When a hospital closes, it usually means that the doctors, whom the hospital shares a symbiotic relationship with, also leave town. Established patients who once had reliable access to a trusted community of providers are left alone and unsure of how to get the care they need.
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For the rural population, and for non-rural citizens who still face overwhelming challenges to accessing consistent, quality care, virtual care can transcend the benefits of convenience and ease and become a truly life-changing, sometimes life-saving solution. When done right, virtual care solutions can provide simple, reliable access not only to basic primary care resources but to entire teams of multidisciplinary specialists who work together so that patient care is rendered by doctors who are committed to working closely with each other in defined patient populations. With a thoughtful virtual care solution, patients can still connect to the right doctor for the right need. Realizing how much doctors can do to help people without seeing them in person gives way to the concept of communications-based remote medical practices that offer a roster of physicians who are ready to work together to deliver care.
When we look at high-touch clinical workflows for remote patients with ongoing chronic care needs such as weight loss, depression, hypertension, and tobacco cessation, virtual care’s potential to meet or even exceed the capabilities of disappearing hospitals and clinics is evident.
Patients with chronic health issues are often established with and in the care of a local doctor and specialty network – for residents of smaller communities however, these provider groups are disappearing along with their hospital systems.
The need for patients to actually visit a physician clinic to maintain their care programs is often unnecessary – missing from the equation is the presence of an economic model that promotes the establishment of functioning, frequently-used online multi-specialty medical practices.
For the last five years, I have seen how patients’ goals can largely be achieved with excellent communication on a regular basis – regardless of setting. Follow up, maintenance, goal setting, course correction, even metrics reporting like glucose levels and daily weight can all be handled via fast, ongoing communication outside of brick and mortar clinics.
The trick is setting providers and patients up on a platform that they will both actually use; removing the barriers that are most likely to get in the way of consistent communication – the need to travel, the headache of coordinating appointments and follow-ups, the expense of paying out of pocket every time you just need someone to listen, wait times, administrative busywork or inflexible time windows. Solutions that connect doctors and patients quickly and easily can lower barriers to care and decrease risk associated with poor access. Furthermore, the virtual care platforms that will succeed will provide an unparalleled delivery experience not only for doctors but for other team members as well – case managers, schedulers, even pharmacists.
When we’ve practiced these principles, the results have spoken for themselves. With a member population we serve in rural Alaska, we’ve delivered member satisfaction rates of 95%+ and introduced some members to the first primary care resource they’ve had access to in years. In the state of Washington, where we partner with one of the country’s largest payers to enable care access for more than 80,000 Medicaid members, we’ve been able to safely resolve more than 87% of all encounters on-platform.
Connecting the dots, if people have an easy way to check in with a doctor, on their time and their terms, they can find that care options exist where none did before. This leads not only to greater trust in a broken system but in better wellbeing overall. Lowering barriers for communication and doctor access opens the doors to faster diagnosis, treatment, reassurance and recovery. This paradigm shift is relevant to more than just rural and remote audiences; it is a game-changer for any human with a lack of transportation, a demanding work or caregiver schedule, a family for whom they are responsible at every moment. The future of healthcare may be uncertain – and even scary – at times, but with thoughtful, accessible virtual care plans powered by interconnected teams of doctors who are committed to empathy, quality, and good communications, I believe that the path forward is a bright one.
Source: Medcit News