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Technology Trends: Virtual Health Care
By Lisa Serwin

Technology is a driving force behind medical and scientific progress, and can help determine the best way to utilize our health care resources efficiently. Patients are growing accustomed to technological updates in their doctor’s offices; questionnaires on tablets, HIPAA-secure e-mail, EMRs, and digital prescriptions are now commonplace. As virtual medicine progresses, using technology at home for a “quantified self” also will become more commonplace.

Technology can encourage patients, particularly those with chronic conditions, to take ownership of their health management, ideally leading to better life choices. With an estimated 133 million Americans with chronic illnesses, this type of virtual health assistance is needed to help people adhere to regimens and stay on track, according to Forbes.

The benefits of virtual care to providers are vast; they include cost savings, expanded reach, the ability to triage patients, time savings, and added convenience. But how exactly is health care going virtual? Here are three of the most exciting breakthroughs:

Patient Portals
Moving to systems such as patient portals allows for 24-hour secure access to information such as lab results, medication history, insurance coverage, and educational materials. Patients can request referrals, schedule appointments, and upload background information on their own time, while providers’ schedules are not overloaded with unnecessary visits. Streamlined processes improve provider workflow, reducing phone calls and miscommunication.

Synchronous Telemedicine
Synchronous telemedicine enables the patient and providers to be together at the same time but in different places, usually via secure video. It is a new, cost-cutting approach to care that many hospitals and insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, are getting behind. Providers such as MDLive are delivering online and on-demand services through a nationwide network of board-certified physicians and licensed therapists. The money-saving consultations are an ideal way for patients to stay healthy between in-office doctor visits and providers to earn extra revenue. Virtual consultations increase physician availability, as the Internet eliminates geographic constraints.

Asynchronous Mobile Technology
Asynchronous mobile technology enables the patient and providers to review health care at different times and in different places—no appointment necessary. It provides the advantages of engagement across multiple devices and patient interaction. AppVisit (full disclosure, this company is led by the author) is a customizable platform that allows physicians to conduct asynchronous, HIPAA-compliant e-visits with their patients at any time. Care can be provided remotely through complete exams, symptom monitoring (whether for chronic or benign conditions), follow-ups, and post-procedure instructions while incorporating reminders, alerts, and digital bill pay to make the entire process efficient and affordable.

There also are apps that work alongside mobile medical devices to capture and analyze information (personal data capture). AliveCor is a heart monitor and app that work together to detect heart rhythms. Patients can record their own electrocardiograms, run reports, and send them electronically to physicians. The GlucoHealth monitor and app, from Entra Health Systems, allows patients to digitally transmit and evaluate their daily readings via their mobile phone or other device while communicating those results automatically to their physicians, caregivers, and clinicians.

Optimizing technology not only impacts the advancement of medicine itself, but the way in which users access it. Virtual health care is a movement not only to supply the tools needed to increase convenience, lower costs, and improve care, but also to empower patients to actively take control over their own health.

— Lisa Serwin is CEO of AppMedicine, founders of AppVisit.