One year in Blue Shield of California's VIRTUAL BLUE PLAN shows positive engagement, high satisfaction with care

April 12, 2024

Just one year after Blue Shield of California launched Virtual Blue as an option for employers, the innovative new health benefit plan is already delivering on its promise to provide convenient access to high-quality integrated primary, specialty, mental health and behavioral health care. Members who used virtual care experienced shorter appointment wait times, fewer emergency room visits* and higher primary care engagement.* In post-visit surveys, Virtual Blue members gave their virtual physicians an average Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 96 through the first year of the plan. NPS is a standard measurement of overall satisfaction.

Blue Shield teamed up with Accolade and TeleMed2U on its Virtual Blue plan, designed to increase access to high-quality, integrated care. With $0 out-of-pocket virtual care visits, Virtual Blue members schedule appointments and meet with their clinician online, reducing the need to travel to the doctor’s office for routine visits, saving time and allowing patients to talk to their clinician no matter where they are. In-person care is available through Blue Shield’s network when needed or preferred.

In the first year of this innovative health benefit plan, early results are showing how impactful virtual care can be. Virtual Blue members who used virtual care options were:

  • More likely to meet with primary care doctors than the year before, when these same members had the same preferred provider organization (PPO) plan without Virtual Blue. Primary care physician claims were 31% higher in 2023 than in 2022. This engagement helps build a positive long-term relationship between patients and their clinicians.*
  • Using less emergency care. Emergency department claims among Virtual Blue members who used virtual care options dropped 11 percentage points more than members who did not use virtual care, between 2022 and 2023.* These are promising signs when emergency care can be significantly more expensive for patients, and increases the overall cost of health care and the burden on emergency facilities.
  • Getting their appointments faster. Virtual Blue members were able to get virtual appointments much sooner than in-person visits. About two-thirds of the time members were able to get appointments within a single day, compared to the national average of 3-4 weeks for an in-person visit.
  • Being screened for behavioral health. 85% of members were screened for behavioral health needs during virtual primary care visits.** Virtual Blue’s holistic approach to health includes integrated mental and behavioral health care for members ages 4 and older.
  • Reducing the overall cost of care by 8-10% compared to Virtual Blue members who did not use virtual care.*

“These early results show us that Virtual Blue is doing exactly what we designed it to do: provide our members with access to high-quality, integrated care when and where they need it,” said Tim Lieb, senior vice president of Growth at Blue Shield of California. “We know this is something employers are looking for as they evaluate their benefit offerings to better meet the needs of their employees.”

Blue Shield is encouraged by these early findings, which will help the nonprofit health plan continue to evolve and adapt its offerings to meet the needs of employers and members. Virtual care shows promise in increasing access to care without sacrificing quality and choice. There are many other benefits, including overall cost of care reductions and minimizing environmental impacts.

Learn more about Virtual Blue here. Commercial groups interested in offering Virtual Blue to employees can visit here.

To hear from some Blue Shield employees who helped build Virtual Blue and are now members themselves, read this News Center story.


Source: Blue Shield analysis of completed visits distributed by how far in advance of the visit the member booked their appointment. Includes follow-up and weekly therapy appointments where multiple appointments are booked in advance.

*Source: Virtual Blue Impact Analysis, Blue Shield of CA Employee Plan, 2023 Policy Year. ​Analysis by Blue Shield of California Data Insights Team with Actuarial review.

**Accolade virtual care appointment data.