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Make the most of virtual health care options

Virtual health care use expanded quickly during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and has since become commonplace. In fact, according to many reports, the telehealth era is only just beginning. A recent study released by Precedence Research reveals that the U.S. virtual health care market was evaluated at $5.6 billion in 2022 and is expected to top 76 billion by 2032.

“There are times when virtual health care makes fantastic sense, and times when you need to come in for a consult,” says Chris Cable, M.D., chief clinical officer, Kaiser Permanente Washington. “For a high risk issue, you should see a provider in person right away. But for many common or routine health issues, virtual care can be a quick and effective alternative.”

The key to making the most of virtual health care is knowing all of your options.

On-demand virtual health care options

It’s always quicker to use the chat feature on your health care provider’s website or app than call your doctor’s office, wait on hold for the receptionist to answer the phone, and then leave a voicemail message and wait for your doctor or someone else to return your call. “Chat is a very popular option,” Cable says. “You simply type your question and then get a response from a live person within about 10 minutes. One big benefit is that it’s free for nearly all of our patients.”

When you use your health care provider’s chat service, you’ll typically be communicating with a clinician who has access to your medical records. They can see your history, what medications you’re taking, and what other medical issues you have. And if they feel that seeing your primary care physician is the right thing to do, they can easily transfer you to a representative who can make that appointment.

Sending a secure message to your care team is another on-demand option, where you’ll usually receive a response the same day. Kaiser Permanente doesn’t charge a fee for messaging, but some providers do.

“One thing we’ve done in Washington state to provide faster service to our patients without sacrificing quality is to create a clinical team that evaluates and often responds to messages before the doctors see them,” Cable says. “These are nursing staff supported by a pool of doctors who can review a patient’s message and their records, and often answer the question themselves. If not, they’ll forward the message to your doctor. The benefit is we now have a daily service to assist patients, even on weekends and holidays.” 

3 tips for a successful telehealth visit

Kaiser Permanente tracks the outcomes of telehealth versus face-to-face visits at its facilities across Washington, and patient satisfaction is similar with the two options. Here are some tips for a successful telehealth visit.

  • Check your technology. For appointed telehealth visits, Cable suggests testing your equipment when you make your appointment to make sure your internet connection, microphone and video work. And then log in 10 minutes before your visit to double check.
  • Choose an appropriate setting. You want to be able to have a private and clear conversation with your health care provider. Make sure you are in a room without distractions, sitting in a comfortable chair, so that you may focus on the visit. Lighting can also be a consideration, for example if you have a skin issue you want the physician to assess.
  • Ask questions and take notes. Your health care provider will provide an after-visit summary, however it’s also a good idea to take detailed notes during your virtual appointment. It’s also a good idea to write down your questions ahead of time and have them handy so you don’t forget anything.

The future of virtual health care

A recent survey of health care executives by Deloitte Center for Health Solutions revealed that more than 85% of respondents anticipate next-generation data sharing solutions and wearable devices integrated with care delivery, will allow for a more tailored, personalized virtual health experience for consumers.

As health care becomes integrated into our daily lives, it will become easier to maintain good health. For example, wearable devices will have the capability take your blood pressure, track your weight and fitness goals, and remind you when to take medications among other things. Shared real-time data will also make it easier for your health care team to manage your care. They may notice your blood pressure is climbing, or your weight has been changing rapidly since starting a new medication. Then, they can reach out through messaging, maybe even before you feel symptoms that something is off-balance and you end up in urgent care or the ER.

“The goal is to have an integrated technology system, including wearable devices and virtual health care options, that help patients manage their health and automatically bring data to your health care team in reliable and unobtrusive ways,” Cable says.

Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. For more information go to kp.org.