As health care continues to advance, virtual care services are becoming even more popular, which, in turn, can help improve access to medical treatments and cut wait times for appointments.
The trend toward virtual care — also called telehealth — continues even as many aspects of life return to pre-pandemic norms. In one survey, 73% of people said they expect to continue to get health care services virtually.
Virtual care may be appealing for a variety of reasons, including improved convenience, affordability and access, especially for the 46 million Americans who live in rural areas.
“While many people once thought of virtual care as only an alternative to in-person urgent care, technology is making it possible to access many other services virtually,” said Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health at UnitedHealthcare. “Virtual care has expanded from helping people who are already sick to detecting and preventing illnesses, and more effectively managing chronic conditions.”
Virtual appointments now focus on specialty care, as well, allowing patients to focus on eye, dental and hearing health without having to leave home.
Here are three emerging virtual specialty care resources that Dr. O’Shea expects will continue to grow in importance and change how we receive health services:
1. Vision care – Nearly 4.2 million Americans age 40 and older are visually impaired, but making routine eye appointments can take time and you may have to wait to be seen. To help with that, eligible UnitedHealthcare Vision plan members can now use a fully virtual capability* to renew their prescription for their glasses or contact lenses from the comfort of home.
The program provides UnitedHealthcare Vision members, at no additional cost, 24/7 access to online eye exams with certified doctors to assess their vision with their existing glasses or contacts. This service doesn’t replace comprehensive eye care but is another tool to help make vision care more affordable and accessible.
2. Dental care – Oral health issues rank among the most avoidable emergency room visits, in part because ERs are not usually equipped to handle dental problems. But in the past, if a painful toothache struck at night or over the weekend, it may have been difficult to know where to go for care, prompting some people to head to the ER.
Today, virtual dental care may offer 24/7 access for advice about getting appropriate in-person care when needed, such as with a nearby dentist or a primary care doctor.
3. Musculoskeletal issues – For the 50% of U.S. adults affected by musculoskeletal issues such as back, knee or shoulder pain, exercise is often among the recommended initial treatments. In some cases, it can now happen virtually with the support of digital apps that can help guide people while performing exercises and stretches designed toOpens in a new tab strengthen core muscles.
To help make these digital options even more useful, some programs combine a smartphone’s front-facing camera and motion monitoring to provide on-demand exercise feedback, offering real-time tips for carrying out safe, effective exercise sessions.
“We used to go to the doctor when a health need popped up, but now health professionals in many specialties can come to us on a computer or smartphone,” Dr. O’Shea said. “As technology advances, watch for even more ways you may be able to connect virtually to get and stay healthy.”
For more information, visit uhc.com.