Financial and Clinical Impact of Virtual Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Difference-in-Differences Analysis

Robert J. Walter, Stephen D. Schwab, Matt Wilkes*, Daniel Yourk, Nicole Zahradka, Juliana Pugmire, Adam Wolfberg, Amanda Merritt, Joshua Boster, Kevin Loudermilk, Sean J. Hipp, Michael J. Morris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Virtual care (VC) and remote patient monitoring programs were deployed widely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Deployments were heterogeneous and evolved as the pandemic progressed, complicating subsequent attempts to quantify their impact. The unique arrangement of the US Military Health System (MHS) enabled direct comparison between facilities that did and did not implement a standardized VC program. The VC program enrolled patients symptomatic for COVID-19 or at risk for severe disease. Patients’ vital signs were continuously monitored at home with a wearable device (Current Health). A central team monitored vital signs and conducted daily or twice-daily reviews (the nurse-to-patient ratio was 1:30). Objective: Our goal was to describe the operational model of a VC program for COVID-19, evaluate its financial impact, and detail its clinical outcomes. Methods: This was a retrospective difference-in-differences (DiD) evaluation that compared 8 military treatment facilities (MTFs) with and 39 MTFs without a VC program. Tricare Prime beneficiaries diagnosed with COVID-19 (Medicare Severity Diagnosis Related Group 177 or International Classification of Diseases–10 codes U07.1/07.2) who were eligible for care within the MHS and aged 21 years and or older between December 2020 and December 2021 were included. Primary outcomes were length of stay and associated cost savings; secondary outcomes were escalation to physical care from home, 30-day readmissions after VC discharge, adherence to the wearable, and alarms per patient-day. Results: A total of 1838 patients with COVID-19 were admitted to an MTF with a VC program of 3988 admitted to the MHS. Of these patients, 237 (13%) were enrolled in the VC program. The DiD analysis indicated that centers with the program had a 12% lower length of stay averaged across all COVID-19 patients, saving US $2047 per patient. The total cost of equipping, establishing, and staffing the VC program was estimated at US $3816 per day. Total net savings were estimated at US $2.3 million in the first year of the program across the MHS. The wearables were activated by 231 patients (97.5%) and were monitored through the Current Health platform for a total of 3474 (median 7.9, range 3.2-16.5) days. Wearable adherence was 85% (IQR 63%-94%). Patients triggered a median of 1.6 (IQR 0.7-5.2) vital sign alarms per patient per day; 203 (85.7%) were monitored at home and then directly discharged from VC; 27 (11.4%) were escalated to a physical hospital bed as part of their initial admission. There were no increases in 30-day readmissions or emergency department visits. Conclusions: Monitored patients were adherent to the wearable device and triggered a manageable number of alarms/day for the monitoring–team-to-patient ratio. Despite only enrolling 13% of COVID-19 patients at centers where it was available, the program offered substantial savings averaged across all patients in those centers without adversely affecting clinical outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere44121
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • clinical outcome
  • cost
  • cost savings
  • difference-in-differences
  • digital health
  • digital health intervention
  • economic
  • finance
  • financial
  • military
  • military health system
  • patient care
  • readmission
  • remote care
  • remote patient monitoring
  • soldier
  • telehealth
  • telemedicine
  • virtual care


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