There’s little question that professional care delivery in the United States is shifting toward virtual healthcare. Just a few months ago, medical research firm Parks Associates released a report showing that 60% of U.S. households with broadband access “are interested in remote care that would take place online or by telephone.”
In other words, patients are increasingly drawn to the concept of healthcare services that come to them, rather than vice versa. And, providing as it does a means to consult doctors, nurses or other healthcare professionals from home, virtual healthcare offers just that.
But what exactly is virtual healthcare, and how does it meet this growing need for fundamental change in the traditional healthcare delivery model? Is virtual care the same as telehealth, and if not, what’s the difference?
What Is Virtual Healthcare, Exactly?
Virtual healthcare refers to the “virtual visits” that take place between patients and clinicians via communications technology — the video and audio connectivity that allows “virtual” meetings to occur in real time, from virtually any location.
A virtual visit can be a videoconference between a doctor and a patient at home. It could mean that a patient can interact with an offsite medical specialist via a high-definition conference hookup at his or her local clinic, instead of traveling to another city. It can also give patients the chance to more readily find qualified second opinions online.
Thus far, virtual healthcare has been used chiefly for meetings and consultations, check-ins, and status reports, rather than for in-depth diagnosis or treatments. Still, as the technology evolves, more serious conditions like diabetes are falling under the influence of virtual healthcare.
Virtual healthcare also better enables specialists to monitor situations or procedures from remote locations. Patient monitoring at home has also been shown to be useful for treating patients with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension, where rehospitalizations too often occur due to lack of communications or transparency about the patient’s condition.
How Is Virtual Healthcare Different from Telehealth?
Like remote patient management, virtual healthcare is a term that’s sometimes used synonymously with telehealth or telemedicine — but they’re not the same thing. Virtual healthcare is actually a component of telehealth, which is a broader term encompassing the entirety of remote and/or technology-driven healthcare.
“There's a little bit of evolution happening in the naming of the different kinds of technologies,” as Care Innovations COO Marcus Grindstaff explains in a video from the RPM Academy. “Telehealth is a very broad category of solutions that service patients at a distance — so it could be doctor visits at a distance, it could be chronic condition management, it could be managing high-risk pregnancy. But doing that at a distance, doing it remotely.”
“Telehealth technology may be a telephone, it could be a videoconferencing capability, it could be an IVR system,” adds Care Innovations Chief Clinical Officer Julie Cherry (RN, MSN). “It sort of encompasses all the different kinds of technologies, but it's the idea that you're using these technologies to gather information and exchange information.”
That the terms are so often confused indicates how integral virtual healthcare is to telehealth delivery. Either way, demand is growing for a means to avoid the expense, burden and time spent traveling to and from clinics or doctor’s offices. And in rural areas struggling to attract physicians and practitioners at all, eliminating the need for transportation isn’t just a matter of convenience but also of basic access — especially for those unable to drive.
It’s also worth noting that patient demand for virtual healthcare tends to transfer to satisfaction after implementation. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Adam Licurse describes how a virtual visit pilot program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital yielded a 97% satisfaction rate among patients, with 74% stating “that the interaction actually improved their relationship with their provider.”
“We were encouraged to find that 87% of patients said they would have needed to come into the office to see a provider face to face if it weren’t for their virtual visit,” adds Dr. Licurse, who serves as the hospital’s Medical Director for Telehealth.
Interested in learning more about how virtual healthcare can help improve quality of care for your patients? Contact us here to schedule your complimentary consultation with a Care Innovations telehealth specialist.