At Health Affairs Blog, we’re excited to introduce a new regular feature. Each month, Health Affairs editors will review all the tables, charts, graphs and maps that have run in the latest print edition of the journal. After deliberating in a dark, but smoke-free, backroom, we’ll emerge to crown the most compelling, creative or surprising exhibit as our Exhibit of the Month!  Readers who’d like to highlight other noteworthy exhibits from the same issue are encouraged to make their pitch in the comments section below.

This exhibit shows how, within the Kaiser Permanente Northern California system, the number of virtual physician visits grew from 4.1 million in 2008 to 10.5 million in 2013.

Feb-Exhibit-CopyrightAccording to Robert Pearl in Kaiser Permanente Northern California: Current Experiences With Internet, Mobile, And Video Technologies, “In 2008 KPNC implemented an impatient and ambulatory care electronic health record system for its 3.4 million members and developed a suite of patient-friendly Internet, mobile, and video tools.”

Among these tools is a system that allows patients to send secure e-mail messages to their primary care physician.  KPNC physicians are now expected to respond within 24 hours of receiving the message.  This system builds on the 10-15 minute physician telephone visits that KPNC has offered patients for more than a decade.

“In many cases,” Pearl writes “physicians can resolve a patient’s problem without scheduling an office visit.”

The exhibit describes “virtual visits” as including both secure emails with physicians and telephone appointments; it does not take into account web-based video physician visits, another option that KPMC has begun testing with generally positive results.  Although just a snapshot of one health care system over 5 years, these trends suggest dramatically increasing comfort among both patients and physicians with health care provided virtually. Read more about KPNC’s experience here.