"We had to figure out how to deploy this to our patients for complaints that were consistent with what could be handled comfortably over the phone or computer," Robertson says. "It allows us to take a very expensive resource—physicians and nurse practitioners—and scale them."
Robertson, a family physician by training, sees the service as an extension of primary care. "Generally what we handle through this approach is the acute symptoms or complaints from people who don't know if what they have is serious enough to need to see a doctor. We are not doing chronic disease management."
Robertson says there are several long-term business strategy arguments to be made for Virtual Urgent Care. For one, it allows Franciscan to have a greater presence in the urgent care market than might be feasible otherwise.
"What would it cost to build an urgent care center, to hire all the staff it would require? To stand up that building and hope someone shows up is an incredibly expensive proposition. When you take the approach of using virtual technology to deliver care, it is a much different cost structure," he says.
Robertson acknowledges the loss of immediate income from ED visits that are averted, but he says one of the biggest downstream benefits of Virtual Urgent Care is that it is a good population health management strategy.