Use of virtual health tools could shave $10 billion a year from primary care costs

Using virtual health technology in primary care could save $10 billion a year and allow treatment of more patients without the need to train more doctors, according to a new report from Accenture.

Digital tools, such as biometric devices, analytic diagnostic engines and a virtual medical assistant, could help streamline work and redirect clinician time to high-value tasks, the report's authors say. They point out three ways in which this could happen:

  1. By shifting tasks to patients
  2. By replacing labor with technology
  3. By automating tasks

By using technology to collect patient information and consider treatment options prior to a patient visit, five minutes per encounter could be saved, according to the report. It puts an economic value on that time at $7 billion annually across the U.S. health system, and could "free up" the equivalent of 37,000 primary care physicians without the need to train or hire more doctors.

What's more, it says, virtual health solutions offer the potential to help patients manage their own chronic conditions such as diabetes outside of the annual exam, it states.

Though technology holds this potential, the question is whether patients will accept virtual solutions, such as e-visits. In one recent survey, 65 percent of respondents said they would be "somewhat or very unlikely" to use telemedicine in place of a face-to-face meeting with their provider.

Additionally, a British study focusing on the use of telehealth to treat patients with hypertension found that patient engagement fell off after the first month. And a Mayo Clinic study of secure messaging found that messages hypertension patients sent to providers were limited and inadequate for clinical decision-making.

To learn more:
- find the report