Digital health solutions could save primary care $10 billion annually, according to a new report released by Accenture at the U.S. News & World Report’s Hospital of Tomorrow Forum. The Accenture report highlights the economic value of applying digital health solutions to three care scenarios: annual patient visit; ongoing patient management; and self-care.
For an annual patient visit, applying digital health solutions – such as biometric devices, analytic diagnostic engine and a virtual medical assistant – could enable healthcare providers to gather patient information, complete the intake survey and consider clinical options prior to the patient visit, streamlining the in-person exam.
The report illustrates that applying digital health tools to annual patient visits could possibly save each primary care physician (PCP) in the United States an average of five minutes per encounter. This is a timesaving equivalent to as many as 37,000 PCPs – or 18 percent of the [existing] PCP workforce – with an economic value of more than $7 billion annually across the U.S. health system. By streamlining data collection and shifting some tasks to patients or technology, the physician time for each annual patient exam, if reduced by only five minutes via virtual health tools, could “free up” the equivalent of 37,000 PCPs, without the need to train or hire more doctors.
Rise of Telehealth Visits
An increasingly common alternative to in-person office visits for managing ongoing needs are telehealth visits, clinical exchanges completed via secure messaging in which patients submit information, questions and images for physician review and response. One area where telehealth visits can be applied is hypertension management, an area involved in one-quarter (26 percent) of annual outpatient visits. According to Accenture, if each patient has one in-person annual physical and half of the remaining hypertension-focused encounters convert to telehealth visits, the time savings could be the equivalent of around 1,500 PCPs –roughly 1 percent of the PCP workforce – with an approximate annual value of $300 million.
Digital health solutions can also be used to help people with chronic conditions self-manage their conditions outside of the annual exam. An Accenture analysis found that when applying virtual health solutions to just one condition – diabetes care – the time that can be released for other uses is equivalent to approximately 24,000 PCPs – or 11 percent of the PCP workforce – for a value of almost $2 billion annually.
“There’s a lot of capacity sitting in U.S. health systems that can be freed by applying digital-enabled productivity strategies,” said Kaveh Safavi M.D., J.D., global managing director of Accenture Health in an official statement. “This type of virtual health can boost the supply of primary care doctors – without adding or training professionals – at a time when there’s a projected shortage of 31,000 professionals expected in the next decade.”
Accenture clinicians, technologists and economists analyzed the workflows of the most common physician office visits, as documented by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS), evaluating how virtual health could be applied to diagnostic, follow-up and condition management encounters. Accenture examined encounters ranging from common preventive-care office visits and routine infant or child health checks to visits for upper respiratory conditions, hypertension, arthropathies and diabetes.
To calculate the monetary value of physician capacity, Accenture referenced Medscape data on average annual primary care physician salaries and American Academy of Family Physicians data about average hours worked annually. The analysis was conducted in collaboration with THINK-Health LLC in September 2015.