The virtual health revolution has spread over the past few years, notably fueled by generational change events such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, healthcare leaders, organizations and decision makers are seeing the value of virtual healthcare, both in terms of convenience and patient experience, and the cost savings that virtual health can potentially deliver at the systemic level.
Some organizations have leaning in even further when it comes to virtual health, using technology to go beyond simple care encounters with patients. Take for example Penn Medicine’s Care Connect program (based on the University of Pennsylvania Medical School). In an article published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, the team writes about “CareConnect: Adapting a Virtual Urgent Care Model to Provide Buprenorphine Transitional Care.” The program leverages Penn’s virtual urgent care services and addiction professionals to provide treatment to patients. As described by the organization, “clinicians trained in urgent care provide virtual assessment and treatment with buprenorphine – a drug that treats opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms – with patients receiving support from navigators addiction throughout their care process”.
The researchers behind this initiative consider this program to be relatively effective: “The study showed that 89% of patients in the program filled their first prescription for buprenorphine, and 55% continued to have an ‘active prescription’ for the drug 30 days after they were first started, indicating that they were still actively in treatment.
Dr. Margaret Lowenstein, MD, assistant professor of medicine, lead author of the study and director of research at the Penn Center for Addiction Medicine and Policy (CAMP), comments: “The numbers are encouraging and may even be an understatement when It’s about who is in active treatment, because that doesn’t take into account people on other modes of care, like methadone, or those who have entered inpatient rehabilitation.
Amid an increasingly fragile healthcare landscape with ever-increasing rates of substance use, programs like these showcase innovative ways to use existing technology to solve difficult problems.
Another innovative way to use virtual health technology is exemplified by the South Dakota State Department of Health (DOH). The state agency is partnering with a telemedicine company to enable its emergency medical services (EMS) to provide virtual emergency care on demand.
The press release explains, “The South Dakota Department of Health (DOH) is pleased to announce the launch of a new telehealth partnership between DOH, emergency medical services (EMS) agencies and the Sioux Falls-based telemedicine provider, Avel eCare. This initiative will use telemedicine to transform the delivery of patient care across the state. As DOH Cabinet Secretary Joan Adam explained, “Telemedicine in Motion will connect EMS agencies in South Dakota with board-certified emergency physicians and registered nurses through Avel eCare’s telemedicine…Many of our EMS agencies need to traveling long distances, when our residents need to care the most. Through Telemedicine in Motion, Avel will provide virtual triage and counseling services to EMS professionals through two-way audio and video in the back of the ambulance. This initiative will improve coordination of care between our EMS providers and hospitals.
Indeed, this is another example of tangible and new impact generated by the use of existing technology. The virtual health infrastructure will allow EMS faculty to better deliver services to patients in the field who need them most, which will hopefully lead to better clinical and community outcomes.
Overall, virtual health technology still has a long way to go, when it comes to security, data fidelity, and patient safety. However, the applications above are just two examples of the many unique use cases of virtual health services that can bring significant value to patients.
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