Virtual hospitals can help ease health systems

Telemedicine concept
Sheila Zabeu -

May 24, 2023

Have you ever thought of being treated in a virtual hospital? Yes, if your case does not require physical examinations, these environments can be a home-based alternative that uses digital technologies to offer treatment to those who prefer the warmth of home while receiving care remotely.

Health systems in many parts of the world are overstretched by a combination of factors such as aging populations and staff shortages and, more recently, the consequences of the pandemic. Resource constraints also increase waiting times for care. In Brazil and other parts of the world, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, it is common to see ambulances with patients waiting to be dropped off at hospitals lacking beds or nurses to provide first aid.

And that situation is only going to get worse. According to a healthcare/our-insights/around-the-world-nurses-say-meaningful-work-keeps-them-going" target="_blank" rel="noopener">McKinsey survey from 2022, between 20% and 38% of nurses surveyed in Australia, France, Japan, Singapore, the UK and the US indicated that they could leave their jobs within a year.

Virtual hospitals can help reduce pressures on health systems, since a portion of hospital admissions could be replaced by remote care. An example comes from Australia, where it was found that about 11% of hospital admissions could be done virtually.

According to a McKinsey study, by moving intensive healthcare to the home, virtual hospitals can offer three main benefits over traditional ones: increased bed numbers, higher patient satisfaction and reduced costs.

For example, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) recently committed to increasing virtual ward capacity by 40 to 50 beds for every 100,000 people by December 2023, allowing more than 17% of total admissions to be treated in virtual hospitals. The time and cost to set up a virtual hospital is also substantially less than that required to build new physical hospital infrastructure, according to McKinsey.

In the Australian case, in a large city, it would be possible to treat 9,500 patients virtually each year. This would open up 130 beds in traditional hospitals, freeing up 47,500 bed-days per year for state public hospitals and saving 90 million Australian dollars.

Três vantagens dos hospitais virtuais

In terms of patient satisfaction, virtual hospitals can also contribute. Many patients, especially those suffering from chronic diseases and comorbidities, prefer to be cared for at home. In addition, they are not very satisfied with the care they receive in traditional hospitals. A US health system and provider assessment survey identified a recent period of stagnation in patient satisfaction, followed by a drop during the pandemic. In addition, patients are also concerned about hospital-acquired infections.

In response to these and other concerns, there is a demand for home care alternatives to improve patient experiences and satisfaction. And the preference for virtual care is driving greater physicist acceptance of digital models. More than 95 percent of Australian doctors surveyed who have used digital solutions are “very or somewhat satisfied” with digital care. Three-quarters said patients’ preference for digital alternatives was an important incentive to deliver care in this new way, according to the McKinsey survey.

Greater patient satisfaction and outcomes

In addition to convenience and flexibility, the study also highlights reduced readmission rates, longer longevity after treatment and lower complication rates as benefits from virtual and home care in high-volume indications such as lung and heart disease. The need for ambulance calls and hospital visits also fell.

Regarding costs, virtual hospitals can deliver savings in direct and avoided expenses. Regardless of the reduction in demand for hospital capacity, virtual hospitals’ costs (costs per episode of care) are approximately one thousand Australian dollars lower than comparable inpatient facilities, primarily because of clinical and medical staffing. This is because virtual hospitals can increase the ratio of doctors to patients.

In cases where care can be virtually scaled up to reduce the need for new hospital beds, extra fixed expense savings can result in an average unit cost reduction of around $2,400 Australian dollars. In McKinsey’s analysis of a model in which 9,500 patients could be diverted from traditional hospitals to virtual environments, there were annual savings of around $90 million Australian dollars resulting from lower expenditure on new hospital wards.

Lower costs for providers and patients

The McKinsey study also points out situations for which you can start considering setting up a virtual hospital, based on a four-step diagnostic process. Check it out here.

Nursing can also be virtual

Virtual nursing is also gaining ground in the real world as healthcare systems around the world seek solutions to address workforce shortages. Virtual nursing models can handle many tasks that do not require in-person care, such as admissions and discharges, remote rounds, medication checks and more.

The basis of virtual nursing models are bedside video and audio systems and tele-nursing that rely on more experienced professionals to provide remote guidance from a central location. This central can be a room in the hospital or a command centre that manages operations for multiple locations.