What is virtual health care?

With the increasing number of digital services available for daily tasks, virtual health care may seem like one more inevitable addition.

Far from being just a momentary trend, however, this type of service has the potential to significantly impact the way many Americans receive care and treatment.

Virtual health care may allow you to contact a physician without needing to visit in person, obtaining necessary advice as quickly as possible and often for a more affordable price.

You could use virtual services to receive ongoing care and support in the comfort of your home, which could save you money if you have a condition requiring regular care. Remote areas with little access to health care professionals can benefit greatly from the introduction of virtual care as well. The services available are relatively new, and it could take time to integrate them into the existing health care model, but the benefits could prove to be more than worth the effort.

Virtual Health Services

Virtual heath care is a relatively broad term and can be applied to several different digital services. In the past, some of these systems may have fallen under the definition of “telecare.” Not all services may be needed by all patients, but the possible services include:

  • Remote consultations through a phone call, video chat, instant messaging or email.
  • Online patient history collection and records, including e-forms and Electronic Medical Records (EMR).
  • Connection to specialists over long distances.
  • Monitoring patient health using electronic devices.

Monitoring

Some health care issues or conditions may need to be monitored for a certain period on a daily basis. This can be inconvenient for the patient who must make multiple visits to a physician to monitor his or her specific care regimen. The process might mean taking significant amount of time to record a small amount of data.

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Virtual health care can incorporate digital monitoring devices, allowing doctors to receive updated information on their patients without needing a face-to-face visit. This can include sleep monitoring, heart rate monitoring and many other services. The technology for this type of care is already used by many Americans, and many doctors may find its integration into their practices to be of great help.

Home Care

One of the major ways virtual health care could be used is in the management of care at home. Some health conditions that do not require frequent tests or alterations in the care model might still require patients to visit their doctor multiple times over a given week or within a month.

Virtual health care means the health management requirements of outpatients or those with chronic conditions could be seen to through remote access. As well as cutting down on the time, labor and expense of individual visits, the patients can remain in the comfort of their homes instead of becoming disrupted by the routine of periodically visiting the doctor’s office in-person.

Specialists and Referrals

One of the major problems many Americans experience with their health care is in referrals when dealing with an ongoing medical issue. If you have been referred to a specialist for a diagnosis or a specific test, coordination between your primary physician and the specialist can be difficult. Information may be delayed or lost, resulting in additional wait times or even repeated tests.

Virtual services could help to decrease these issues. By keeping patient records online and allowing doctors and patients to enter relevant information when needed, coordinating your health care could become easier. You could receive attention from a specialist without having to visit him or her in person through this medium as well.

Transportation and Access

Although there may be many areas in which virtual health care could see improvement, it might be particularly useful in rural areas. Those who live in these areas are often required to travel long distances to reach available health care. In addition to this, rural and remote locations may lack the number of health care professionals required. Virtual health services, by allowing easier access to doctors and reducing the labor needed to operate a health practice, could be of great benefit.

Costs

Virtual health care may be able to save significant amounts of money, both for patients and for practitioners. Patients may save on the cost of transportation and perhaps the potential cost of missing work in order to travel to a doctor’s appointment.

The costs of the practice itself could be lowered. Additionally, the time spent on the average patient visit could be lowered without increasing the amount of labor required. Virtual care can allow doctors to help more patients without having to hire additional staff to accommodate for the added workload. In areas where fewer professionals are available to fill positions, this could be vital to the function of the practice.

Challenges of Virtual Health Care

While there are many potential benefits to virtual health care, there are challenges you may face during this process. These potential challenges include the following:

  • The technology required for virtual health care could be difficult for some patients to use.
  • Remote consultation could make some patients uncomfortable.
  • In-person visits are generally still required for accurate diagnosis.
  • The existing system of health care and insurance, including the ACA and services such as Medicaid, need to adapt to the use of virtual care.
  • Privacy can be an issue when using traditional forms of virtual communication, such as email. New systems to protect patient information would need to be established.

Integrating Virtual Health Care

Although they may add to the convenience of a physician’s practice, virtual services generally need to be integrated into traditional services instead of operating alone. For example, a doctor requires an in-person meeting to make a diagnosis based upon your symptoms and previous medical history. If a patient simply fills out an online form before the visit takes place, the time spent taking the patient’s history is shortened considerably. The software used to process the information may have provided options for the doctor’s diagnosis in advance, which can reduce the length of any given appointment made between a patient and a doctor. In this way, virtual services can provide for the needs of doctors rather than replacing them.

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