Technology has dramatically improved physician-to-patient communications and paved the way for virtual medical care, a novel way of dealing with health and wellness. A component of telemedicine, virtual care allows the healthcare providers to remotely assess patients’ symptoms using a computer, tablet or other electronic device. Based on this information, they can diagnose illnesses or injuries, and prescribe treatments. A more convenient and less expensive way of providing care than the in-person office visit, telemedicine is proving an ideal option to treat urgent health issues, monitor patients with chronic conditions, and deliver follow-up care. Telemedicine services are provided via secure video and audio connections.
Originally, virtual care was mainly used to connect to patients in rural areas. Today, telemedicine allows physicians to provide help almost anywhere and at all times. Recent reports suggest that, in the near future, a telemedicine visit could replace an office visit and help control health care costs by preventing unnecessary trips to the emergency room. Virtual care can reduce missed appointments and hospital readmissions, and enhance patient satisfaction by identifying problems early.
Virtual medical care offers many benefits for patients:
- Provides 24/7 virtual access to providers
- Directly links them to their provider
- Creates access to specialists regardless of geographic location
- Promotes self-management by making patients aware of their current health status
- Avoids the need to take time off of work, physically visit the emergency room or drive to the doctor’s office
- Saves money by eliminating travel costs
- Allows convenient scheduling of consults, including after hours, nights and weekends
Telemedicine has many advantages for providers too. Adopting virtual care tools allows physicians to see more patients, cope better with complex clinical situations, and help patients play a greater role in managing their own care.
Virtual medical care is a good option for wide variety of common conditions such as allergies, arthritis, respiratory infections, colds, flu and fever, skin rashes, bladder infections, vomiting, and minor wounds. It is also being widely used to monitor and treat patients with chronic conditions and those needing orthopedic care.
Chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are a huge economic burden for the healthcare system. According to the National Council of Aging, many older adults are living with one or more chronic diseases; while 92 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition, up to 77 percent are living with at least two chronic conditions. Offering affordable access to telemedicine would help healthcare organizations better engage and care for patients with chronic conditions.
Healthcare Finance reported on a new study which suggests that telemedicine could improve satisfaction with postoperative care as well as quality of life for patients recovering from vascular surgery. The patients were provided with a telemedicine app and other in-home monitoring tools to track their vital parameters. They also completed questionnaires on their emotional wellness and satisfaction. Care managers reviewed all of this data on the telemedicine platform daily, which allowed them to intervene and answer patients’ questions about symptoms and wound care, prescriptions, scheduled appointments with physicians, and modified care plans. Compared to the participants who got standard treatment, patients in the telemedicine group scored better on measures of their physical function, mental health and role limitations due to physical health problems.
Telemedicine is also transforming delivery of orthopedic care. The daunting potential problems that many patients face after joint replacement include hip or knee infection, acute trauma, cancer, and pediatric diagnoses. A recent report in Healio Orthopedics Today highlighted how virtual care could help both patients with post-surgical complications as well as those whose recovery efforts are progressing well, but would like to “touch base” and connect with their surgeon or other healthcare professionals.
Virtual care is also a great option for people with mental health concerns, especially seniors or those living in rural areas. The demand for behavioral health services is increasing while the number of available mental health providers is dwindling. With telemedicine, people can get access to quality mental healthcare in the comfort of their home or care facility with the confidentiality they need.
Healthcare consumers want accessible, affordable, quality health care. Telemedicine meets this demand. For the model to work, physicians should be encouraged to embrace virtual care technologies. However, the Deloitte 2018 Surveys of US Health Care Consumers and Physicians have found that lack of reimbursement, complex licensing requirements, security concerns, and the high cost of the technologies have led to slow adoption. With the focus on value-based reimbursement, experts recommend that health systems need to work towards helping physicians adopt and use virtual care tools effectively to improve patient access and wellbeing.