Virtual healthcare services have been rising in popularity both in the US and globally. One of the main reasons for this are repeated lockdowns over the years, and rightful concerns over how safe it is for vulnerable patients to visit hospitals during the pandemic. While virtual healthcare has opened a lot of doors for patients and medical health practitioners alike, the services themselves leave room for improvement.
Even with huge companies like Amazon investing in virtual healthcare with their Amazon Care programs, many patients find themselves needing to go for an in-person checkup after a virtual checkup. Others feel like virtual therapy lacks the human connection that in-person therapy has to offer, and many in general feel that their needs can't be met with a virtual consultation with their physician.
Healthcare organizations, on the other hand, have their own reasons for wanting to make virtual healthcare the norm.
When you look at countless industries, a lot of jobs all around the world are now completely remote. Things like virtual assistance, call center jobs, content creation, and IT industries have all seen an uptick in remote job openings to make room for the changes we’ve seen in the world lately.
In light of all this, the healthcare industry has been trying to make the shift to a more virtual patient care experience for a number of reasons. Let’s talk about some of them.
A lot of patients have trouble going to the doctor’s office for prescriptions and general consultations. Patients who are bedridden will now be able to discuss their issues and easily get a prescription, which is an especially valuable thing in light of the pandemic - a lot of people have rightfully raised concerns over how safe it is for immunocompromised people, for example, and those with breathing issues to visit the hospital.
Healthcare services are now available to people with mobility issues and disabilities as well - now, care can be arranged right in their homes instead of them needing to be present in care facilities or the doctor’s office to receive care.
According to a study conducted in 2014, the average cost of an online consultation is about $40 to $50, while an in-person visit costs around $176. Not only this, but virtual healthcare makes it cheaper for healthcare providers to operate as well - it eliminates the need for a whole clinic and premises. It also makes it possible for the healthcare facility to operate with cheaper staff - instead of a receptionist, the doctor now might only need a VA online they can hire on a contract basis instead of bringing on a full-time employee for the office.
This topic has been touched on briefly but needs repeating - virtual healthcare makes it safer for vulnerable patients to gain access to healthcare. Not only did virtual healthcare make it possible for people to access it more easily and without fear, but it also eased the load on healthcare facilities when they were under a lot of pressure at the height of the pandemic.
Virtual healthcare also allowed doctors to keep in touch with their patients more easily, and to avoid unnecessary visits to healthcare practices.
The pandemic left people stranded in all corners of the earth. This effectively cut off access to healthcare for a lot of people, and virtual healthcare made it possible for them to still stay connected to their healthcare provider for consultation and access to important medical records when they needed it.
Even now, virtual healthcare makes it possible for people to access the best doctors from wherever people are in the world. In the future, it might also be possible to connect people to healthcare in areas that lack healthcare infrastructure.
But in the battle for global, cheap, and digital healthcare, doctors and patients alike are facing challenges. There are always huge adjustments to be made when there’s a major shift in the system and the way we do things, and understanding these barriers is the first step to overcoming them.
In this section, we’re going to discuss both these problems before moving on to what their solutions are in the next section.
Care continuity is something that a lot of doctor’s struggle with - once patients feel better, they might stop feeling the need to follow up with their healthcare practitioner. This is especially true for virtual care where it can be harder for doctors to keep providing the same care consistently, mainly because of how patients perceive virtual healthcare at the moment.
It's important in virtual healthcare to follow up with your patients regularly and with even more urgency than was present in regular patient care systems.
It's obvious that virtual care is nowhere near the same as its alternative, even though both aim to provide the same kind of services to the patients. A lot of healthcare organizations are struggling to come up with the right policies and regulations to make sure the virtual healthcare system is properly regulated and maintained, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Navigating these policy changes and shifts in attitude isn’t always easy for both healthcare providers and patients alike.
Virtual healthcare is not, at the moment, a suitable alternative to in-patient treatments in all cases. While things like the symptoms of a common cold or a UTI can be discussed virtually, patients will still need to make their way to the hospital and get a more thorough checkup in other cases.
Things like allergies, asthma, diarrhea, infections, vomiting, rashes, skin inflammations, insect bites, sore throats, and certain non-serious injuries can be treated virtually. But if it’s anything that your healthcare practitioner might want to look at more closely, or anything that may require a test or scan, you will need to make an appointment with the doctor for a visit.
A lot of patients feel like their needs aren’t being met through virtual healthcare - many older people would fail to see how a healthcare provider would be able to reach an effective diagnosis without assessing their situation in person first, and people might also feel like their concerns about their health are being brushed aside and not being taken seriously. That by setting the consultation up virtually, their doctor isn’t taking them seriously.
This perception of virtual care is something that might soon change in the near future.
In this section, we’re going to discuss the steps that need to be taken in the healthcare industry to improve the virtual healthcare experience for patients.
Stricter and better policies need to be put in place to make sure virtual healthcare remains transparent and high quality. The wrong medical practices and a lack of regulation can spell disaster for something that could possibly end up saving more lives, and ultimately result in unimaginable losses.
Policies are needed around how much patients are charged for virtual consultations, where insurance companies stand on this issue, when it was and wasn’t important to call patients in for a physical checkup, and much more.
Jobs for a lot of assisting medical personnel - like medical scribes - will change a lot when it comes to virtual checkups. For example, the job of a medical scribe previously would be to take notes and record all information about the patient’s visit to the doctor. Soon, there might be transcription software that can do the same thing and record all details about the virtual call - if it doesn't exist already.
Staff at a healthcare facility will need to become much more tech savvy and comfortable with technology, especially when it's for video conferencing.
At the same time, nurses, assistants, and other people involved in patient care will see their jobs and roles reassigned and redefined in order for the virtual healthcare experience to be smoother for both the patient and the doctor.
In an earlier section, we discussed how care continuity was an issue especially in virtual healthcare. Steps would need to be taken to make sure patients actually follow up with their providers, which could include regular automated emails or notifications inside any app that was used in the process.
Things like CRM software can be used for this purpose, and ones like Salesforce can be adapted for use in virtual healthcare very easily. This, in turn, is going to see the rise in demand for a healthcare professional who knows all about both healthcare and customer service.
Another big issue with virtual healthcare is that patients will often not be able to tell whether something is worth getting looked at in person or not. Patients might end up consulting the doctor virtually only to be told to come by the healthcare facility for a checkup, or they might end up going to the hospital for something that could have been a 15-minute video call.
Being provided with more resources to better be able to judge their needs is something patients will need more in the future of virtual healthcare, and this can be in the form of questionnaires, a simple text conversation with a nurse or healthcare professional before an actual consultation, a small e-book, or something else.
One of the most important things about virtual healthcare is to not underestimate the importance of the right kind of video conferencing setup. Using the right equipment, making sure you’re in a well-lit office, and making sure you look presentable is important. At the same time, you need to also have the right audio equipment, so you don’t have any issues with communication with your patient.
To make sure that everything was conveyed properly, you also need to ensure that you follow up with the patient via email and get the details right. First impressions stick, and the importance of a seamless, professional virtual consultation shouldn’t be lost on any professional.
While dealing with your patients, you will need to make allowances and arrangements for those who are disabled or incapable of handling technology efficiently. People with hearing issues might need to make sure that they have the right kind of audio equipment to make sure they can listen to what their doctor is saying, and doctors might need to talk a bit more slowly and make a conscious effort to raise their voice a bit.