How Virtual Care is Changing Health Care
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Published on March 04, 2019

patient seeing provider on the phone

How Virtual Care is Changing Health Care

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented a technology that revolutionized how we interact today.

Over a century later, 95 percent of Americans now own a cellphone of some kind – 77 percent of that being a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center.

Today, the innovation of telehealth has carried Bell’s technology further than ever imagined. We are in a day and age where everything is at our fingertips. Government proposals continue to show signs that telehealth will continue to increase the accessibility of health care.

“The definitions are beginning to change, and it could help to open more channels and connections for insurance coverage to pay for convenient features such as virtual visits,” said Preston Renshaw, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Avera Health Plans and DAKOTACARE. "If the definition does change, it could lead to insurance coverage for both in-person and virtual visits."

Additional Technology, New Collaborations

AveraNow is Avera’s platform for real-time, face-to-face visits between providers and patients from a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

“AveraNow is a great example of how the addition of visual technology brings providers and patients together in new and exciting ways. It changes the game,” said Renshaw. “Before this sort of service, people could call their doctor’s clinic with questions, but they could not hold up their camera to a rash or red discoloration in their eye, all while standing in the aisle at a grocery or convenience store. We can do that now.”

Renshaw sees technology only increasing the capability of provider and patient interaction. “We’ll soon have the means to synch AveraNow with a scale, so patients and providers can use that metric to monitor progress. We’ll also sync with glucometers for diabetic patients,” he said. “We will not just look and listen, but use wide-ranging tools to help people in their health journey. It is important to meet people where they are. Technology allows us that opportunity.”

Connecting Each Visit

Electronic medical records (EMR) gives advantages to patients as well as care teams by providing details for each health care visit within a health system. Like many health systems, Avera’s EMR, known as AveraChart, provides monitoring of patient records.

“When an Avera provider has an AveraNow session, they can pull up the EMR and have insight on past visits, medication and treatments. That helps us as providers, but it makes a big difference for patients who may not remember a visit or approach taken – it’s all right there,” Renshaw said.

Via the AveraChart portal, patients can review their medical record and test results through computer or phone, and send questions or requests for prescription refills to their care team.

A Long-Standing Solution

The phone is still a valuable tool within health care. Most health systems provide a hotline for patients and members to utilize. At Avera, patients and members have access to the Avera Medical Call Center and 24/7 Nurse Hotline, both offering around-the-clock access to registered nurses.

“You can look things up on the web, but you’re not talking to a real medical professional,” said Renshaw. “A 24/7 nurse hotline allows a medical professional to guide an individual, in real time, to the nearest location if it is an urgent matter.”

Telemedicine – The Future of Health Care

That same urgent response is the backbone of Avera eCARE®, which puts experts in a wide range of medical disciplines “in the room” with providers across the nation, so they can help patients who need them. Avera eCARE also allows specialty visits via telemedicine, saving patients from having to drive – perhaps hundreds of miles – to see a specialist.

“An integrative delivery system – from insurer to provider to telemedicine – makes a tremendous difference in continuity,” Renshaw said. “All these links allow us not only to connect, but to care for people through a collaboration of experts.”

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