Blue Shield of California: Virtual care models critical amid changing climate 

As climate change increasingly threatens the nation's healthcare infrastructure and members' health outcomes, the adoption of more virtual care models is needed to build climate resilience and reduce carbon emissions in healthcare, according to a July whitepaper from Blue Shield of California.

This payer specifically pointed to the 2018 Camp Fire in California as an example, which was the most destructive wildfire in the state's history. In the town of Paradise, 83 percent of the population was displaced, 90 percent of homes were significantly damaged or destroyed, and the main healthcare facilities were severely damaged or unusable.

Blue Shield used one year of 2020 data from its hybrid primary care model in Paradise post-fire and partial-2020 data from another study site in Sacramento to compare the environmental footprints of virtual and in-person care models.

"The flexibility of the virtual care model allows for continuity of care and improved access when critical infrastructure services are disrupted," the whitepaper said.

Five key takeaways:

  1. The healthcare industry's carbon emissions increased 6 percent from 2010 to 2018, and the sector makes up 8.5 percent of the nation's total carbon emissions.

  2. In California, an estimated 11,000 people will die because of extreme heat in 2050.

  3. Use of a hybrid virtual care model at both study sites led to a 25 percent decrease on average for carbon emissions and a 35 reduction in water consumption. 

  4. Use of a hybrid virtual care model at both study sites led to a 19 percent decrease on average for particulate matter emissions and a 32 reduction in smog formation. 

  5. Blue Shield launched a virtual-first health plan in April that offers $0 out-of-pocket costs for virtual primary care, specialty care for 20 specialties, urgent care and mental healthcare.

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