From ordering groceries online to streaming TV shows, people want access to everything at their convenience and at their fingertips. And though they are aware their demands are being met by many industries, most of them do not realize that healthcare is also stepping up to provide this level of convenience and access.
Telehealth is one of the modalities that makes this possible by enabling patients to see and talk to their physicians through their computers, smartphones, or tablets. This means patients don’t have to go to the physician’s office or sit in the waiting room anymore. Instead, they can book a consultation and meet their physician online from the comfort of their homes. Beyond convenience, virtual visits are also a great option for patients to save money and time.
Nevertheless, there are times when in-person consultations will be necessary. Virtual visits are not intended to address medical conditions that may require an in-person assessment and care. For instance, interventional procedures, imaging or lab tests, etc.
There’s little question that the healthcare sector in India is shifting towards virtual delivery. According to Future Health Index 2019, India is among the forerunners in terms of adoption and use of all new digital health technologies or mobile health apps.
Patients are also drawn to the concept of healthcare services that comes to them rather than vice versa. But what is virtual healthcare? Is virtual care the same as telehealth? If not, what’s the difference? And finally, how does it work?
What Is Virtual Healthcare?
Simply put, virtual healthcare means ‘virtual visits’ that happens between patients and healthcare providers through technology. Virtual visits or telehealth are typically videoconferences between a physician and patient. Instead of travelling to another city or location, virtual visits give patients the option to connect online with their trusted physician.
Now, video and audio connectivity which are a part of virtual healthcare is known as telehealth, and these allow the clinical consultation to take place in real-time and from almost any location. However, virtual visits are not limited to telehealth. Modalities like specialist referrals and remote monitoring can also be included under virtual healthcare. Furthermore, virtual healthcare aids specialist monitor situations or procedures from remote locations.
Patient monitoring at home has been found useful when it comes to treating patients with chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, where rehospitalisations happen too often due to the lack of transparency about the patient’s condition and communications.
What Can A Virtual Physician Treat?
Physicians can virtually offer treatment to a wide array of health issues including;
- Chronic health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity
- Acute conditions like seasonal allergies, migraines, and skin conditions
- Acute non-urgent infections like bladder or urinary tract infections, bronchitis, GI illnesses, and seasonal flu
- Annual wellness visits and monitoring
How Is Virtual Healthcare Different From Telehealth?
Virtual healthcare, telemedicine or telehealth are terms that are used interchangeably—but they are not the same thing.
Telehealth means the delivery of healthcare services through information and communication technologies (ICTs) over both long and short distances. The term ‘Telehealth’ literally translates to ‘healing at a distance’. It is a medium that makes the delivery of patient-centred healthcare services more efficient to people who face physical and financial barriers.
While telehealth refers to long-distance patient care, virtual healthcare is a much broader term that includes all remote/ technology driven-healthcare (healthcare services for patients at a distance) under its umbrella—it could be checking in after an in-person visit, monitoring vitals, patients accessing their records from their smartphones, physicians responding to any questions about a diagnosis, chronic condition management, or managing high-risk pregnancy. But all of it is done remotely or at a distance. To put it simply, Virtual Healthcare includes all the means through which physicians and patients can communicate in real-time using digital tools.
The demand for a means to avoid the time, expense, and burden spent travelling to physician’s offices and clinics are significantly increasing, particularly in the rural areas where eliminating transportation isn’t just a matter of convenience but also of access.