Healthcare organizations are finding new uses for virtual health technology

The virtual health revolution has prevailed over the past few years, particularly fueled by generation-changing events such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, healthcare leaders, organizations and policymakers are seeing the value of virtual health, both in terms of convenience and patient experience, and in terms of the cost savings that virtual healthcare can potentially provide at the system level.

Some organizations have Bent down even further in virtual health, using technology to go beyond ordinary patient care encounters. Take, for example, Penn Medicine’s Care Connect program (based with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine). In an article published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, the team wrote about “CareConnect: Adapting a virtual emergency room model to provide transitional care with buprenorphine.” The program uses Penn’s virtual emergency services and substance use professionals to provide treatment to patients. As described by the organization, “Trained emergency medicine clinicians provide virtual assessment and treatment with buprenorphine—a medication that treats opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms—with patients supported by substance use navigators throughout the care process.”

Researchers leading this initiative consider this program to be relatively effective: “The study showed that 89 percent of patients in the program filled their first prescription for buprenorphine, and 55 percent continued to have an ‘active prescription’ for the drug 30 days after their first admission , indicating that they were still in active treatment.’

Dr. Margaret Lowenstein, MD, assistant professor of medicine, lead author of the study, and research director of the Penn Center for Addiction Medicine and Policy (CAMP), commented, “The numbers are encouraging, and we may even be underestimating them when it comes to who is in active treatment, as it does not include people in other types of care, such as methadone, or those who have entered inpatient rehab.”

Against the backdrop of an increasingly volatile health care landscape with ever-increasing rates of substance use, programs like these demonstrate innovative ways in which existing technology can be used to solve challenging problems.

Another new way virtual health technology is being used is exemplified by the South Dakota 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 Sioux Falls-based telemedicine provider Avel eCare. This initiative will use telemedicine to transform the delivery of care delivered to patients across the state. As explained by Joanne Adam, Department of Health Cabinet Secretary, “Telemedicine on the Go will connect EMS agencies throughout South Dakota to certified emergency physicians and registered nurses through telemedicine from Avel eCare… Many of our agencies for emergency medical care travel long distances when our residents need care the most. Through Telemedicine in Motion, Avel will provide virtual triage and consultation services to emergency medical professionals via two-way audio and video in the back of the ambulance. This initiative will improve the coordination of care between our emergency medical providers and hospitals.”

Indeed, this is yet another example of tangible and novel impact being driven by the use of existing technology. The virtual health infrastructure will allow EMS faculty to better provide services to patients on the ground who need it most, which will hopefully lead to better clinical and community-wide outcomes.

Overall, virtual health technology still has a long way to go in terms of 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 can provide significant value to patients.

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