5 questions to ask your health care provider about virtual health

(BPT) – Have you experienced a virtual health visit? We know that people enjoy the convenience and potential cost-savings of virtual health because it often eliminates the need to travel, find childcare and take time off work. However, there are challenges standing in the way of a seamless, consistent, high-quality and frictionless experience that’s accessible for all.

In Deloitte’s Center for Health Solutions report, “Tapping Virtual Health’s Full Potential”, findings showed that quality of internet service was associated with use of virtual health visits. Nearly half of people surveyed (46%) with very good/reliable internet service had a virtual visit in the last 12 months, compared with 31% of those with very poor/unreliable internet service. Although most people surveyed (81%) have broadband access, only half (52%) describe it as reliable and meeting their needs. Not surprisingly, 63% of those surveyed with an annual household income greater than $100,000 have reliable internet, compared with 46% of those making less than $50,000.

“Our research shows that access to reliable broadband service is key to people’s ability to try a virtual visit, and it also contributes to their satisfaction with the experience,” said Bill Fera, MD, principal and virtual health practice leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “Virtual health can complement in-person care, and it has the potential to reach patient populations that are underserved and under-resourced. If we empower people with the technology and information on how to best use virtual care options, and collaborate at the community level, virtual health can extend important services, like mental health, in ways that meet people where they are and feel most comfortable.”

When Deloitte surveyed physicians about virtual health’s effect on access to care for underserved groups, more physicians said virtual health has increased access (39%) than decreased (7%), while 12% said it had no effect and 25% said the effects were mixed. While these findings are encouraging, to help ensure that virtual health isn’t creating a digital divide, health care organizations should consider collaborating with local governments, utility providers and businesses in their communities (such as shopping centers, schools, shelters, libraries and pharmacies) to provide free Wi-Fi and digital devices that can be used to enable virtual health services.

For people interested in virtual health, here are five questions to ask your health care provider:

  1. Do you offer virtual visits and how can I schedule one with my physician?
  2. Do you have services available to help me learn how to use a portal or how to interact with my physician in a virtual setting so that I can feel comfortable?
  3. What do I need to do to prepare for a virtual health visit?
  4. Can a caregiver join my virtual health visit?
  5. If my insurance doesn’t cover a virtual visit, how much will it cost me out of pocket?

While virtual health is not a substitute for how care has traditionally been delivered, it can offer new ways of receiving care that were not possible in the past. When done well, virtual health has the potential to provide care to more people in a convenient, comfortable setting that can potentially save costs, be a component of the continuum of care, reduce stigma and improve health.

To learn more about the survey findings, read Deloitte’s report titled, Tapping Virtual Health’s Full Potential.