Video visits more successful with medical assistants making connections

COVID-19 pandemic findings reported by Kaiser Permanente.

Video visits had better connection rates between patients and primary care doctors when medical assistants began the calls during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report by Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research.

The connections especially benefited patients who needed language interpretation or lived in a low-socioeconomic status neighborhood, according to the health care network.

“The involvement of a medical assistant seemed to reduce the technology gap,” senior author Mary Reed, DrPH, said in a news release. “Our study didn’t identify exactly how this happens, but we believe it is because the medical assistant is available to walk patients through the technology and provide encouragement and a human connection.”

The data was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Kaiser Permanente Northern California has 9,500 physicians treating 4.5 million members.

In March 2020, the health care system saw a rapid increase in the number of video visits when in-person medical care was reduced to limit COVID-19 virus transmission.

The Permanente Medical Group developed a regionwide initiative to promote and support video care. The initiative included “virtual rooming,” in which medical assistants called patients 15 minutes before visits to aid in connecting them with physicians.

Based on trends from October 2020, the practice increased connection rates for all patients, including those in low socioeconomic status neighborhoods (11.4%), Black patients (12.1%), Latino patients (9.8%), Asian patients (8.1%) and white patients (5.2%).

For those needing language interpretation, connections with assistance were an estimated 13.1% higher, compared with 7.4% for those not needing interpretation, according to the study.

Overall, the study found 87% of video visits had a successful connection, “which is stellar in my opinion,” Reed said.

“There’s always a chance that technology will fail or you won’t have good enough reception,” said Reed a scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. “We found a very high rate of success during a challenging time of the pandemic.”

Kaiser Permanente generated weekly reports on virtual visits, which included the medical assistant rooming rate and video connection rate. The reports were shared widely and prompted local leaders to share best practices with one another to improve processes, according to the health care network.

This article was originally published on Medical Economics®.