Virtual Health

Virtual healthcare refers to the use of technology, including telephones, video, mobile apps, text-based messaging, and other communication platforms for the delivery of health services to a patient outside of a health system. These technologies enable virtual care, but virtual healthcare is more than these technologies. Virtual healthcare is the actual provision of care to remote patients through technology.

For health systems, virtual healthcare is essential to reaching and serving more people and addressing resource and staff shortages. Virtual healthcare can also be useful for providing second opinions, consultations, chronic condition management, and remote monitoring of certain conditions.

Virtual healthcare is most commonly known as “telehealth” and “telemedicine.” Those terms limit virtual healthcare’s capabilities. In whole or in part, virtual healthcare is the ability to remotely see and engage a patient who is outside of the office no matter the technology used to do so.

Why virtual healthcare use is increasing?

More than 96 percent of health systems expect to expand their virtual healthcare capabilities because of several drivers: coming legislation, health payer influence, and consumers. Forthcoming legislation is expected to make it easier for providers to obtain revenue from virtual care-provided services, which historically hindered the ability to receive payment for the services.

Private employers are including virtual healthcare offerings in their employee-based insurance plans, too. Health plan benefit use of virtual healthcare rose from 63 percent in 2017 to 74 percent in 2018 to reduce employee health costs. These policies are driving virtual care.

How is virtual healthcare different from telehealth?

Virtual healthcare is often referred to as “telehealth,” “telemedicine,” and “telepractice.” While closely aligned in theory, they are not the same thing. Telehealth is a component of virtual healthcare. Virtual healthcare includes the entire provision of care.

Virtual healthcare is a range of categories and solutions designed to service remote-based patients. Telehealth technology provides the ability for the connection with the patient, whether via telephone or videoconferencing equipment, encompassing the tech that connects a provider with a patient.

Virtual healthcare provides real-time communication between an actual provider and patient, leading to better care, especially to underserved areas. Virtual health improves the delivery of care, using technology to do so. Studies suggest that providers can save money costs, improve clinical outcomes, increase patient engagement, and expand access to care through virtual health programs.

One large health system reported in a peer-reviewed study that direct-to-consumer pediatric telemedicine, for example, reduced emergency department and urgent care utilization, along with the associated cost. The findings also found that without “telemedicine” service, 28 percent of parents would have visited the ED.

What is a virtual nurse?

While some virtual care technologies – like automated assistants and chatbots – are classified as “virtual nurses,” virtual nurses are, in fact, human caregivers who provide care to patients through telehealth-based virtual technologies.

Virtual nurses provide care to patients in the same manner as physicians and other caregivers. Virtual-based nurses communicate with patients, help them maintain their conditions, monitor patient health and outcomes, and provide coaching as needed.

Benefits of virtual healthcare

The benefits of virtual healthcare are numerous for patients and health systems.

Better access to care: Virtual healthcare appointments are promising for patients living in remote, rural, or underserved areas. Virtual healthcare can become a lifesaving offering for many people, especially true, when there is a shortage of qualified providers near their homes. Virtual healthcare technology can open care channels too, the American Telemedicine Association says.

Better quality of care: The American Medical Association says virtual healthcare can improve the quality of patient care. Additionally, the AMA says patient-physician relationships are stronger as access expands and more services are available remotely.

Convenience: According to AARP, patients waste more time than one might think on routine doctor visits, whether it’s sitting in stop-and-go traffic or a waiting room. Travel time takes times, and patients.

Managing chronic conditions: Virtual healthcare is being used by many health systems to monitor ongoing health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and even COPD.

Treating urgent symptoms: Patients can gain almost immediate access to caregivers for an initial appointment. In-person follow-up care may be required, but patients can get a quick start on the initial process from wherever they are.

Best care anywhere: No matter the patient’s location – another city or in another country — telehealth is helping to expand access to doctors and services. For example, retirees tend to travel a lot and may need care from home. Virtual visits make it easier to coordinate care with those on the go.

Reduced healthcare costs: Virtual healthcare could result in $6 billion per year in savings, according to Towers Watson. The reason: Better management of chronic diseases, reduced travel times, and fewer or shorter hospital stays. Those are wins for everyone.

Better self-care of chronic conditions: Self-care is more efficient with virtual care. For example, individuals with diabetes can use mobile technology to manage their life, diet, and health. By doing so, they reduce the need for in-person encounters.

For health systems, the benefits of virtual healthcare are slightly different. Virtual healthcare can augment human resources, expand clinical capacity, and improve efficiencies, as well as provide the above-listed benefits for patients. An additional benefit of virtual healthcare is that it allows health systems to move patients to become more involved with their care. In other words, engaged patients.

Virtual healthcare also can streamline in-person exams by collecting patients’ information, gathering symptom data, and identifying potential options of care before the actual visit. By collecting this patient information in advance, physicians save time to review possible treatment options and interact more with the patient. Direct virtual care communication with a patient before an office visit creates time savings for a medical practice and the patient. Estimates produced by virtual care technologies are anticipated to be about five minutes per encounter per physician.

How Can We Help You?

We understand that finding the right medical provider is one of the most important decisions you and your family can make. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please reach out to us.

To reach a department or person at the Houston Family Physicians, please contact us by phone.

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