A figure materializes in your lounge, replete with a shiny stethoscope draped around its neck. It greats you heartily, while a Star Trek-like medical tricorder quickly scans your body, checking your pulse and temperature.
Is this hologram only a dream doctor of the future, or could there be a genuine and accessible version of Virtual Care we can tap into right now?
‘Care’ that comes to you, or Virtual Care, is a healthcare concept currently growing in leaps and bounds.
According to research done in 2017 by Parks Associates, 60% of broadband households in the United States at least, were interested in remote care either online or by phone.
It is wonderful to witness how technology can positively impact the quality of life for aging consumers or for anyone who might need virtual care.
In this article, we will review the concept of virtual care in terms of what it is and how it can benefit you, albeit without a hologram (for now).
This article contains:
What is Virtual Care?
Virtual healthcare refers to healthcare services that take place via a virtual visit or through communications technology.
Through video and audio connectivity, both the practitioner and the patient can meet in real-time, from virtually any location.
There are many benefits to virtual care, including:
- An easier way to get a second opinion.
- A good way to interact with a specialist either from the doctor’s office or from home.
- Eliminates the need for travel.
- A better way for specialists to monitor situations or procedures from remote locations.
- A better solution for quick consultations and meetings as opposed to traveling for a face-to-face visit.
Virtual Care Versus Telehealth
Virtual healthcare, while it is a component of Telehealth, is unique. Telehealth is more of a broad solution that encompasses the entirety of remote and technology-driven healthcare.
Telehealth is a comprehensive category in a sense focused on servicing patients at a distance. This might refer to a doctor’s visit, monitoring a high-risk pregnancy, or managing a chronic condition.
Virtual care, on the other hand, is a quick, convenient option. Most virtual care services are offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which sets it apart from a doctor’s visit, or something planned or scheduled far in advance.
This makes it a viable option for therapy sessions and meeting with a psychologist online.
Benefits of Virtual Care
The idea behind virtual care is that it is there when you need it. A virtual care provider can diagnose, recommend treatment, and prescribe medication. Virtual care eliminates the need to travel to an office as well.
Virtual care is ideal for:
- Minor illnesses like an ear infection
- Colds and flu treatment
- Sore throats
- Minor coughs
- Sprains or strains
- Minor depression
- Weight concerns
- Sinus infections
- Eating disorders
- Grief and loss
- Bipolar disorders
- Panic disorders
- Trauma and PTSD
- Women’s issues
- LGBTQ support
Obviously, virtual care is meant for minor issues. It would not necessarily be suited for a medical emergency.
The idea behind virtual care means not waiting until you get sick to seek an opinion or treatment. Many virtual care providers have a simple setup process as well, involving setting up a profile and completing a basic medical history.
Once you create your account, you can then request a virtual visit for a small fee at a time that is convenient for you.
Virtual counseling makes access to psychological services quick and easy helping patients avoid the inconvenience and the high cost of a one-on-one visit.
Competitive Advantages of Virtual Health
There are many competitive advantages to virtual care as well. Virtual healthcare helps increase access, improve the value, and help establish a competitive advantage by operationalizing technology solutions.
Virtual care can either complement or act as a substitute for your usual standard of care. The overall goal of something like virtual care is to improve access to much-needed services while reducing the cost constraints along the way.
With expected physician shortages, the continued growth and expansion of advanced technologies and increased patient demand, virtual care makes a lot of sense.
There is a clear competitive advantage as well because virtual care offers an on-demand solution, reaching patients directly in their homes.
There is also an increasing demand for third-party physician networks sponsored by insurance groups to provide services like:
- Walk-up clinics
- Virtual consultations
- Virtual monitoring
Virtual counseling is a great way to help patients who might otherwise hesitate to seek out psychological services. The virtual visit is convenient, private, and secure, making it an attractive option for things like addictions, grief, and loss counseling or even something like an eating disorder.
According to research done by Accenture, a vast majority of consumers are more than ready to receive healthcare services virtually.
- 77% of consumers surveyed would prefer to track their health status virtually. This includes things like blood pressure, blood glucose, pulse rate, etc.
- 76% of consumers would prefer to have a follow-up visit virtually.
- 74% would prefer to get follow-up healthcare at home after being hospitalized.
- 72% would prefer to get reminders to take medication and get daily support to help manage ongoing health conditions.
- 70% of consumers surveyed would prefer to have a virtual exam for minor ailments like a sore throat or a sinus condition.
- 65% of consumers surveyed would be open to attending a class about a specific condition such as diabetes.
- 54% would be open to participating in a support group.
- 53% of consumers surveyed would be open to receiving mental health counseling therapy virtually.
- 50% would be open to participating in mental health group therapy.
These numbers are encouraging and show that people are open to new things and new ways to expand virtual care.
Despite these positive numbers, only 21% of consumers surveyed stated they had received virtual care.
This provides an excellent opportunity to expand virtual care in the marketplace as well as a chance to help people better understand what virtual care is and how it works.
There is a need for more patient education. While 73 % of consumers stated they had some awareness of virtual care, only 5 % of those surveyed said they “know a lot” about virtual health.
A shocking 27% of those surveyed, had “never heard of” virtual healthcare.
What this tells us is that more education is needed to help consumers enhance their knowledge, so they are better aware of what kind of advancements are available in terms of virtual care.
A global market study done on virtual care suggests that the video platform segment is set to grow at a significant rate through 2026.
- Virtual care is a method that is carried out via virtual visits with the help of technology.
- The term “virtual” refers to virtual meetings that occur in real-time, between patients and doctors from any location.
According to a Global Market Study on Virtual Care, revenue generated by the global virtual care market is expected to demonstrate a double-digit compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and reach somewhere along the lines of 13.08 Bn by 2026.
The virtual care market is broken down into solutions and services.
The share of revenue from the virtual care solutions market is expected to expand at a growth rate of 26.9% CAGR during this same forecast period.
This is due to the increasing deployment of different solutions in virtual care application areas such as hospitals, pharmacies, and other similar venues.
This segment is further divided into virtual care platform types such as:
The platform most widely used by virtual healthcare providers is the video platform.
The Evolving Face of Healthcare
The healthcare industry is changing every day. With new technology, there is no limit to what we can do – and that may as well include holograms.
The goal of something like virtual care is to increase access and enhance patient care while finding ways to decrease the overall cost.
Fortunately, technology is making this transition simple. Virtual care is a great way to provide options for people who have difficulty getting to the doctor’s office. Virtual care is a smart choice for someone who wants a quick consultation or help with a minor health issue.
Thanks to live video, audio, and instant messaging people can interact with their healthcare provider anywhere and anytime.
For those who live remotely or for those who don’t have transportation, this is a convenient option.
These new modalities are quickly becoming the new normal, and they are taking the healthcare industry by storm.
Virtual care is a broad term that encompasses all the ways healthcare providers remotely interact with their patients.
Ideal for things like checking in with a patient after an in-person visit, monitoring vitals after something like surgery, or responding to any questions about their diagnosis, condition or treatment plan, VC is cost-effective and very applicable in today’s health care environment.
The term itself is simply a way of talking about all the ways patients and doctors can use technology and digital tools to communicate in real-time.
With the expansion of virtual care into the counseling arena, psychological services for issues like stress and trauma, PTSD, or depression are even more accessible. Virtual care is a wonderful option for someone who might not otherwise seek counseling or treatment outside of the safety of his or her home.
Limitations to Virtual Care
It seems like the virtual care movement is here to stay, but what are the limitations? As with anything, there are both positives and negatives.
Virtual care is meant to be an extension of the brick and mortar care model, offering convenient access to a care provider for a limited number of conditions.
According to one study, there is a variation in the quality of urgent health care provided during commercial virtual visits. (Schoenfeld, Davies, et al., 2016)
The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, utilized individuals trained to act as patients with the following illnesses:
- Ankle pain
- Strep throat
- Urinary tract infection
- Lower back pain
These acute conditions were chosen because they have recognized standards of care in outpatient treatment.
Quality measures can be compared across different standards of care.
The fake patients performed 599 virtual visits overall with a wide range of vendors. What the findings revealed was the quality of care was variable at best.
Out of the 599 virtual visits, the correct diagnosis was delivered only 458 times. The rate of guideline-adherent care tended to range from 206 visits to 396 visits across eight unique vendors.
However, there is a significant lack of comparison for face-to-face visits, making this difficult to gauge.
Doctors do misdiagnose patients on occasion, whether they are virtual visits or traditional visits, and there are also times when a physician may not follow established guidelines.
Another study done looked at access and quality care in direct-to-consumer telemedicine (Uscher-Pines, Mulcahy, et al. 2016, April).
The study, published in the Journal of Telemedicine and eHealth, looked at virtual visits from Teledoc. The study also made a comparison with office visits.
The study reviewed past insurance claims from the California Public Employees Retirement System.
One interesting fact to note is that out of the 233,000 eligible individuals, only 3,000 of them took advantage of a virtual visit. This equates to a mere 1.3% utilization rate, which is quite low.
The research revealed other startling results. The Teledoc doctors performed worse on several indicators when compared to traditional practitioners located in an office.
The virtual providers did not order strep tests as often, and they tended to order antibiotics more often for bronchitis when compared to a standard office visit.
When it comes down to it, the virtual visits make it much harder for a physician or care provider to insist on something like a strep test. From the patient’s point of view, having to go that extra step and travel somewhere to get a strep test, makes the virtual care model seem less appealing and less worthwhile.
In terms of prescribing something like antibiotics, a virtual care provider may not be as cautious as he or she would be if seeing the patient in person.
While these may be minor issues, it is something to pay attention to. With the advent of technology come growth pains as well.
Perhaps there will come a day when the patient can perform something like a strep test at home, but for now, that would require an outside visit.
More studies need to be done to more fully determine what kind of standard of care we should be providing for virtual visits.
A Take-Home Message
Virtual care has many benefits. It also has some downsides. A virtual care provider is no different than a traditional care provider when it comes to misdiagnosing on occasion or overprescribing something like antibiotics.
Sometimes doctors miss things or prescribe something that may not be needed. A virtual care provider faces the same scrutiny that a brick and mortar provider faces. This same type of scrutiny applies to all kinds of virtual care services, from physical issues like treating a cold or a sprain to mental issues such as addictions or panic disorders.
Virtual care is a wonderful solution for minor illnesses or small aches and pains, as well as minor psychological issues. However, no one is perfect.
Extending the office visit across the virtual world is a good thing, but we cannot forget that the same standard of care must also be maintained.
One can only ponder that perhaps the answer to reliable virtual care of the future, lies not so much in the hologram, but instead the medical tricorder… A discussion for another day, but for now our wish for you is to:
Life long and prosper.
- Burrill, S., & Steve. (2018, February 13). Transforming care delivery through virtual health: Deloitte US. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/life-sciences-and-health-care/articles/virtual-health-health-care-providers.html.
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