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Digital Health Tools Could Save Healthcare System $10B Annually

October 19, 2015
by Heather Landi
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The use of virtual health solutions in primary care could save $10 billion annually when applied to annual patient visits, ongoing patient management and self-care, according to a recently released report from Accenture.

The report highlights that the U.S. is faced with health professional shortages, with a projected shortage of as many as 31,000 primary care physicians (PCPs) by 2025, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. And, the U.S. spent $2.6 trillion on healthcare in 2010, with wages accounting for more than half of that cost.

The Accenture report states that combining virtual health and traditional patient care models can help address the nation’s clinician labor cost and capacity challenges.

“Virtual health can enable more clinical care work to get done without expanding the workforce, by streamlining work and redirecting clinician time to high-value tasks. Virtual health care models can expand clinician capacity in three critical ways: shift tasks and work to patients, replace labor with technology and automate tasks,” the report authors stated. “More available time means greater coverage for more patients, without increasing workforce size. The optimal combination of traditional in-person and virtual interactions could also offer the best patient experience and has the potential to create a new standard of care across the entire range of clinical services.”

As one example, the Accenture report details how during an annual patient visit, a patient could provide information to the physician prior to the scheduled appointment through the use of digital tools, such as wearable sensors and digital weight scales. This information could be submitted through a secure portal with the use of a computer-generated medical assistant that guides the patient through intake questions and then analyzing the combined information with a diagnostic engine, clinical options can be suggested to the physician prior to the in-person exam.

Accenture analysis shows that applying virtual health to annual ambulatory patient encounters can save each U.S PCP an average of five minutes per encounter, which is a time savings equivalent to as many as 37,000 PCPs, or 18 percent of the PCP workforce. This amounts to an economic value of more than $7 billion annually across the U.S. health system.

The Accenture report also highlights the use of eVisits as an alternative to in-person visits to manage patients’ ongoing clinical needs. eVisits are asynchronous clinical exchanges completed via secure messaging in which patients submit information, questions and images for physician review and response. For a patient with hypertension, if each patient has one in-person annual physical with half of the remaining hypertension-focused encounters converted to eVisits, the time savings could be equivalent of around 1,500 PCPs, or roughly one percent of the workforce for an approximate annual value of $300 million, according to the Accenture report.

The report also states that virtual health solutions can be applied to patients with chronic conditions to help them self-manage their conditions outside of the annual exam. The Accenture analysis highlighted applying a care model comprised of an annual physician exam and technology-enabled self-management for the rest of the year to one specific condition – diabetes care. The Accenture analysis found that when applied to diabetes care virtual health solutions could save the time equivalent to approximately 24,000 PCPs, representing 11 percent of the workforce for a value of almost $2 billion annually.

At the enterprise level, the Accenture analysis found that for a large regional health system or independent practice association, an average of five minutes saved across all ambulatory annual encounters can release about $63 million in physician capacity per year, the equivalent of about 320 practicing PCPs. For smaller systems or clinically integrated networks, a five-minute savings across all annual encounters can release the equivalent of roughly 140 physicians’ time with a value of almost $28 million annually.

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