The virtual health revolution has been prevalent over the last few years, especially fueled by generation-shifting events such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever before, healthcare leaders, organizations, and policy makers are seeing the value of virtual health, both with regards to patient convenience and experience, and the cost savings that virtual health can potentially provide on a systemic level.
Some organizations have leaned in even further with regards to virtual health, using the technology to go beyond simple patient-care encounters. Take for example Penn Medicine’s (based with The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) Care Connect program. In a paper 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 substance use professionals to provide treatment to patients. As described by the organization, “Trained urgent care clinicians provide virtual assessment and treatment with buprenorphine — a medication that treats opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms — with patients receiving support from substance use navigators throughout their care process.”
The researchers spearheading this initiative consider this program relatively effective: “The study showed that 89 percent of patients in the program filled their first prescription of buprenorphine, and 55 percent continued to have an ‘active prescription’ for the medication 30 days after being first engaged, indicating that they were still actively in treatment.”
Dr. Margaret Lowenstein, MD, an assistant Professor of Medicine, the lead author of the study, and the research director of the Penn Center for Addiction Medicine and Policy (CAMP), comments: “The numbers are encouraging and likely may even be an underestimate when it comes to who is in active treatment, since it does not capture people in other modes of care, such as methadone, or those who have entered inpatient rehabilitation.”
Amidst an increasingly shaky healthcare landscape with ever-growing rates of substance use, programs like these display innovative ways that existing technology can be used to solve challenging problems.
Another novel way that virtual health technology is being used is exampled by The State of South Dakota’s Department of Health (DOH). The state agency is partnering with a telemedicine company to enable its emergency medical services (EMS) to provide virtual, on-demand emergency care.
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 Service (EMS) Agencies, and Sioux Falls-based telemedicine provider, Avel eCare. This initiative will use telemedicine to transform the delivery of care provided to patients throughout the state.” As explained by Joan Adam, DOH Cabinet Secretary, “Telemedicine in Motion will connect EMS agencies throughout South Dakota to board certified Emergency Physicians and registered nurses via telemedicine from Avel eCare…Many of our EMS agencies experience long distances to travel, when our residents need care the most. Through Telemedicine in Motion, Avel will provide virtual triage and consulting services to EMS professionals through two-way audio and video in the back of the ambulance. This initiative will improve the coordination of care between our EMS providers and hospitals.”
Indeed, this is yet another example of tangible and novel impact that is driven by utilizing existing technology. Virtual health infrastructure will enable EMS faculty to better provide services for patients on the ground that need it the most, which will hopefully lead to better clinical and community wide outcomes.
Overall, virtual health technology still has a long way to go, with regards to security, data fidelity, and patient safety. However, the above applications are just two examples of the many unique use-cases of virtual health services that may provide meaningful value to patients.