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Solving The Patient Engagement Puzzle With Virtual Care

The healthcare market is changing. Patients’ expectations of convenience and quality are fueling their healthcare purchase decisions. Meanwhile, retail clinics, urgent cares, and direct-to-consumer telemedicine companies are entering the market in droves, giving patients more options outside the primary care relationship. As a consequence, health systems are finding patient engagement increasingly important.

Give the Patients What They Want

Henry Ford famously said, “Any customer can have a car painted in any color that he wants so long as it’s black.” While shifting, this same attitude remains prevalent in healthcare. Many health systems still require patients to mold their lives around limited care delivery options. However, in order to engage their patients, health systems need to adjust this thinking and focus on what steps they can take to truly meet patient needs.

The good news is that a wealth of data exists to help guide health systems as they seek to better understand their patients’ needs. Overall, the general consensus is that patients want healthcare delivery to fit into their lives:

  • In a 2016 survey*, 62% of patients said they’d be open to replacing an office visit with a virtual visit for non-urgent matters.
  • Software company Cisco’s 2013 survey found that 76% of patients prioritized access over human interaction
  • 37% of US healthcare consumers want health companies to make their lives easier, according to a report by management consultant McKinsey & Company

Generational differences

One striking note when looking at the healthcare market is the difference in generational preferences. The 2016 survey* referenced above shows that 52% of millennials and 53% of generation x-ers would choose a provider who offers virtual care over one who doesn’t, compared with just 37% of baby boomers.

These differences become even more striking when looking at the primary care relationship. According to a survey by FAIR Health, only 43% of millennials would choose a primary care setting for non-emergency treatment. This same survey found that younger patients were more inclined to make healthcare decisions based on cost, whereas those over 45 were mostly interested in maintaining a relationship with their primary care doctor. Underscoring this, a PNC Healthcare survey found that seniors and baby boomers were significantly more likely to visit their primary care doctor (85% and 80%, respectively) compared to millennials (61%).

Traditionally, health systems have excelled at meeting the needs of baby boomers and seniors - after all, the current system was built by them. But in order to stay relevant, health systems need to begin focusing their engagement efforts on younger generations.

How Virtual Care Can Help


Convenience is important across the board. Younger generations, in particular, feel a need for care delivery to fit into their lives, not vise-versa. Their reliance on episodic care through retail clinics or urgent cares shows that care delivery on their schedule is absolutely vital to them.

Offering a virtual care service can meet the market demand for convenient access. And, with patients clearly stating their desire - and even preference - for virtual visits, this is key to long-term success. Further, offering virtual care may encourage younger patients to maintain a relationship with a single health system or at least, gives them less incentive to seek care outside their medical home.


Time is an increasingly precious resource - for both providers and patients. Store-and-forward virtual care technology can help by enabling providers to utilize their marginal capacity, diagnosing and treating patients in a fraction of the time required by an office visit. Using this technology, patients, too, are able to save time while effectively managing their health.

Moreover, transitioning visits to virtual can lighten the load on providers, giving them more time to foster engagement through face-to-face interaction. The structured data collected through a virtual visit can be automatically routed to the EHR, eliminating time spent on data entry. And treating certain conditions virtually gives providers more time with patients who have complex needs.

Moving Forward

Patient engagement may not have a one-size-fits-all solution. But access and efficiency are critical across the board. Consequently, virtual care definitely has a place in patient engagement strategy. The time is now.

*Salesforce State of the Connected Patient, 2016

About the Author

Kevin Smith's picture

Kevin Smith, Chief Clinical Officer at Zipnosis, has been a leader in innovative care delivery since 1999. In both clinical practice and his doctoral studies, he has focused on innovative applications of technology, clinical decision support, and analytics to drive clinical quality improvement. Dr. Smith is adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, a Fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, and a member of the American Telemedicine Association, HIMSS, AMIA, and the National Speakers Association

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