Case Study: Virtual Health Care
Virtual Health Care Puts Access at the Patient's Fingertips
As health care is increasingly available in consumer and retail environments, patients’ expectations have changed.
Patients have become accustomed to using technology to have their needs met in the moment. When it comes to health care, patients are now able to access same-day care from a variety of outlets. Houston Methodist Center for Innovation wanted to make care even more accessible by bringing the care provider to the patient — virtually.
The Advisory Board’s 2017 Virtual Visits Consumer Choice Survey of more than 5,000 patients across the country found that 77% of patients are interested in virtual care visits. The Center for Innovation set out to accelerate the timeline to bring virtual visits to Houston Methodist.
“Urgent care is just one component in the virtual world of care,” said Rebecca Linn, leader of the Telemedicine initiative at Houston Methodist, “We are creating a virtual health platform, and urgent care is the most natural place to start because it suits the patient needs so well.
The potential benefits of providing urgent care via a virtual platform are numerous, including:
- Increased patient satisfaction through improved access to care
- Decreased wait times at brick-and-mortar urgent care locations
- Fewer non-emergent emergency department (ED) visits – 70% of all ED visits are non-emergent
- Improved public health as sick patients stay home and avoid the spread of contagious diseases
- Continuity of care is achieved as patients can remain in the Houston Methodist system even as they potentially move physically further away
For a technology platform, Houston Methodist looked to American Well, a telemedicine technology provider with a robust urgent care platform. Operationally, Houston Methodist has a group of dedicated providers who work Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, we partner with American Well for wraparound coverage group of virtual health care providers to see patients during nights and weekends.
The initial pilot launched to Houston Methodist employees and beneficiaries on May 7, 2018. The consumer launch followed approximately nine months later, on Feb. 27, 2019.
In March 2019, Houston Methodist became the first health care system in Houston to offer consumers 24-hour access to virtual urgent care visits. Anyone can access Houston Methodist Virtual Urgent Care online at houstonmethodist.org/virtual-care or through the MyMethodist app.
“It is an easy process to be seen virtually,” remarked Linn. “It takes only three or four clicks within the app.” Integration within the MyMethodist app is also convenient because it includes access to medical records, physician communications, test results, bill payment and prescription refills through MyChart, as well as access to wayfinding maps and emergency care for Houston Methodist facilities across the Greater Houston area.
Common reasons for virtual urgent care visits include pink eye, gastrointestinal symptoms, coughs, colds and upper respiratory symptoms. For follow-up or advanced care, patients are referred to a Houston Methodist location, typically a same-day clinic. Providers also offer tips and guidance on where to go — playing the additional role of a patient navigator in some cases.
Avoidable Emergency Department Usage Analytics, Truven Health Analytics, April 2013ely, improve outcomes.
- In the first 30 days of the pilot, more than 300 virtual care visits were completed
- Through April 28, 2019, there have been more than 4,500 completed visits
- About 90% of patients access virtual care services on a mobile device
- 4.9 out of 5
Prior to launch, there was some skepticism that seniors would not engage with telemedicine, but Linn says that hasn’t been an issue, “We have not seen that age is a factor of using technology, which is wonderful, because the virtual platform is ideal for seniors, who might have limited mobility or access to transportation.” Interestingly, 75% of the virtual visits have been female users.
Houston Methodist recently added scheduled virtual visits for behavioral health and nutrition counseling, and also plans to broaden the telemedicine platform to include e-visits and text visits.