Virtual care is not new. A subset of virtual care—telemedicine and telehealth—refers to the use of telecommunication devices to transmit medical and health information.3 Virtual care is the integration of telehealth into mainstream care delivery to complement or even substitute traditional care delivery. It involves the convergence of digital media, health technology, and mobile devices, and leverages additional modalities—such as text messaging, digital voice assistants, and decision support tools powered by artificial intelligence and augmented/virtual reality—to create a continuous connection between patients, physicians, and other caregivers.
Many believe that widespread adoption of virtual care might not be possible until value-based payment models take hold:4 By improving care coordination and prevention, virtual care may decrease the use of expensive emergency department and hospital services—a financial benefit under value-based payment models, but not under fee-for-service.
We expect the changing reimbursement environment along with a few other emerging trends to facilitate the adoption of virtual care as a common practice. For instance, growth in consumer demand for virtual care is expected to continue, with younger generations driving expectations of easier access through technology. To add to this, the cost and complexity of virtual care technologies are likely to decline as consumer technology companies (such as Apple, Amazon, and Google) begin to compete with traditional medical technology suppliers, reducing barriers to entry for physicians and health systems. The regulatory environment too appears to grow supportive of virtual care. States increasingly have laws requiring insurance coverage of telehealth services, and many states have passed payment parity laws, requiring the same level of reimbursement for telehealth visits as for in-person visits.5