Asynchronous virtual visits adept for routine care

Asynchronous virtual visits are allowing clinics associated with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to keep tabs on chronic-care patients while freeing physicians to spend time on sicker ones.

The technology, targeted at patients with chronic conditions who typically see their doctor four or five times a year, is being used at eight MGH clinics with more coming online. Physicians are treating people they know, and patients don't have to come into the office.

The asynchronous visits mean a doctor and a patient don't have to be available at the same time. With this approach, patients answer condition-specific questions on a secure website, the physician reviews the answers within one day and communicates the next steps, reports Clinical Innovation+Technology.

The article touts success with conditions such as high blood pressure, and there's some evidence that depressed patients might be more forthcoming with the online questionnaire than in person.

Beyond a computer, the only technology patients need is a blood pressure cuff that's provided to monitor their readings. The system is offered as software-as-a-service that allows practices to go live within weeks with just 45 minutes of physician training.

Patients have been open to the technology, but clinicians, the institution and payers have been a harder sell, according to Ronald Dixon, M.D., medical director at MGH Beacon Hill Internal Medicine Associates and director of the Virtual Practice Pilot at MGH.

Noting that physicians are drowning in administrative duties, he's spotlighted the system's ability to take on documentation and billing duties.

"All the extra stuff I do when the patient is there is all taken care of by technology. That's the beauty of it. The clinician still makes the decision," Dixon says in the Clinical Innovation+Technology article.

Dixon considered video appointments, but that would require patients to have access to the technology for them. A recent study published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health found patients open to virtual visits, but 86 percent still preferred to speak with the provider face-to-face.

Meanwhile, a U.K.-based study found that self-monitoring helped hypertension patients lower their blood pressure levels over the course of a year.

To learn more:
-  read the article