Today in the chart

How Virtual Video Visits Can Connect You to More Patients

Can video visits successfully replace office visits without sacrificing the quality of care and communication? A new study says yes, they can

Your patient isn’t feeling well, but she can’t leave the office; it’s icy outside, there’s rush-hour traffic, or it’s the middle of the night. There are many reasons why getting to the doctor’s office can be challenging for patients of all ages, if not impossible. However, virtual video visits (VVV)—personal video chat communication between a healthcare professional and patients using a computer or tablet with a secure interface—can make healthcare more accessible. They allow patients to see a health care provider from the comfort of their own home or anywhere they are from their mobile device. Still, can video visits successfully replace office visits without sacrificing the quality of care and communication? A new study determined they can. 

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has been offering VVVs since 2013, and the technology has continued to evolve. Researchers at MGH surveyed 254 established patients and 61 physicians who participated in the VVV program. Researchers used a secure web tool to measure the perceptions of patient and provider experience with VVVs compared with office visits. Some of the patients in the study were parents of children who required multiple visits and older adults who couldn’t easily travel to the hospital. 

62% of the patients and 59% of the clinicians reported no difference in “the overall quality of the visit.” What surprised the researchers is that 21% of patients and one-third of the providers thought the overall quality of a VVV was better than an office visit.

Patients preferred VVVs for the convenience of scheduling and saving on travel time. In addition, clinicians reported that VVVs were more efficient than traditional visits. However, VVVs fell short on the personal connection aspect on clinicians’ part; 46% of clinicians said they thought office visits were better, but just 33% of patients agreed. 

This study included established patients in several departments or divisions, including primary care, cardiology, oncology, neurology, and psychiatry. None of the patients were there for the first time. The researchers noted that because VVVs are visual, most of the time between patient and provider is spent face-to-face, compared to less than 20 percent of the time of a traditional visit. As a result, the researchers concluded that VVVs give patients more of what they want from a medical visit and less of what they don’t.

Questions to consider when offering VVVs to patients:

  • VVVs are an important and useful option in clinical care. But why stop there? To best meet the clinical needs of patients, could their medical issues also be addressed in other secure modes of communication, such as email or text messaging?  
  • Researchers cautioned that VVVs are not appropriate for all patients in all situations. Which, if any, conditions or symptoms should be excluded from the VVV program?
  • VVVs can experience technical issues, especially when patients use the system for the first time. How will technical issues be resolved?
  • How will patients pay a copay for a VVV if one applies?
  • Can VVVs be integrated with the patient’s electronic medical record?
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