Virtual care enables health professionals to provide important clinical health services to their patients, remotely. But should it always be a replacement for in-person visits with a healthcare provider?
Let’s take a closer look.
We all know that virtual care is an effective, accessible, and cost-effective way to connect medically remote patients with the clinical care they require. But is virtual care always as good as an in-person visit with a health professional? Let’s look at the evidence.
What is virtual care?
Virtual care describes the provision of remote healthcare services via secure, high-speed, HD video-call technology. A virtual care appointment can occur between a patient and clinician, or it can be a collaboration between multiple clinicians.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, growing consumer demand has seen virtual care rapidly evolve to become an accepted – and expected – method of delivering clinical care to patients.
The Australian Government has supported the use of virtual care during the pandemic via the introduction of temporary MBS telehealth items, while state governments have embraced digital health as part of their future health strategies.
What are the benefits of virtual care?
An Australian study published in late 2020, examined 1,369 peoples’ perceptions of remote consultations via telehealth technology, compared to their perceptions of traditional, in-person visits.
Of the 596 telehealth users in the study, the majority of respondents (n=369, 61.9%) stated that their telehealth experience was “just as good as” or “better than” their traditional in-person medical appointment experience.
So, what is it that makes virtual care such an effective method to deliver remote health services?
Research by Deloitte has identified five key areas where virtual health provides benefits that can improve both consumer and provider experience, as well as the quality and cost of care:
Improve clinical outcomes
Enhanced continuity of care and more robust data and analytics to inform decision making and tracking of performance.
Example: A 26% increase in adherence rates (up to a total of 96%) to a smart-cardiac rehabilitation program via a smartphone application, compared to traditional rehabilitation methods.
Enhance patient experience
Reduced patient effort and improved engagement with care pathway and adherence to treatment.
Example: 97% satisfaction rates for patients who participated in an eVisit through audio, video, and other electronic communications channels due to reduced length and increased speed of visits.
Expand patient and clinician access
Improved speed of access to care and level of care in the appropriate care settings.
Example: 73% increase in timely use of stroke drug through Telestroke program, which remotely evaluates people who experience acute strokes, saving time spent delaying treatment.
Reallocate costs and improve efficiency
Efficiencies gained can increase productivity.
Example: $3B in estimated savings to Australia’s healthcare system made through decreases in GP visits, specialist visits and procedures from the adoption of virtual health devices and technology.
Enhance care coordination
Expand reach, connectivity and better workforce matching to patient need, improving quality and safety.
Example: 30% reduction in potentially preventable hospitalisations through remote patient monitoring in the hospital for patients with complex chronic illnesses who require frequent hospitalisations.
A patient-centric approach to healthcare
Post-pandemic, virtual care will remain a fundamental part of the healthcare landscape. But it’s important to emphasise that virtual care is never a replacement for in-person visits between a patient and their healthcare provider. Rather, virtual care is another method of providing care, in combination with in-person visits.
Whether a patient requires a virtual visit, or an in-person visit, will depend largely on the patient’s clinical requirements.
For example, a patient requiring surgery can have before- and after-procedure visits with their health provider via video call.
Or a patient with a complex, chronic health condition who lives in an isolated location far from the specialised care they require, can still access the ongoing healthcare services they need, when and where they need it, via a video call platform designed specifically for health settings.
This ‘hybrid’ approach of melding the virtual and the in-person, places the patient at the centre of a new, coordinated, connected, and continuous model of care.