Blog Telehealth vs. Virtual Care
There’s very little question that 2020 brought on a shift towards virtual healthcare. A recent report shows that 60 percent 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 the other way around.
But what is virtual healthcare, and how does it meet this growing need for fundamental change in the traditional healthcare delivery method? Does it differ from telehealth, or are they the same thing?
What is Virtual Care?
Virtual care 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 anywhere. This can be a video conference between a doctor and a patient at home. It could mean a patient is interacting with an off-site medical specialist via a high-definition conference hookup at his or her clinic instead of traveling to another city. It can also give patients the chance to more readily find qualified second opinions online.
Up until this point, virtual care has mainly been used for meetings and consultations, check-ins and status updates, rather than for in-depth diagnosis and treatments. However, as technology evolves, more serious conditions are falling under the influence of virtual care. This type of healthcare can be vastly beneficial for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension, where rehospitalization too often occurs due to a lack of communication.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is a more encompassing term than virtual care. This term refers broadly to electronic and telecommunications technologies and services used to provide care and services at a distance. Healthcare providers may use telehealth platforms like live video, audio or instant messaging to address a patient’s concerns and diagnose their condition without meeting them in person. This may include medical advice, talking them through at-home exercises or recommending them to a local provider or facility. Of course, treating certain conditions remotely can be challenging. Telehealth is often used to treat common illnesses, manage chronic conditions or provide specialist services. If a patient is dealing with an emergency or serious condition, their remote provider will advise them to seek in-person medical care.
Similarities and Differences
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Virtual care is a component of telehealth, which refers to the many ways healthcare providers interact with patients remotely.
Virtual care gives patients the advantage of making appointments online, fast check-ins, remote monitoring and more. Its purpose is to provide services or care to those who may otherwise be too busy for an in-office visit. However, the purpose of telehealth is to deliver more efficient and patient-centered healthcare services to those who face physical and financial barriers to quality healthcare support.
Virtual care uses smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to support healthcare through things like live video, video chat or instant messaging. This may include remote check-ins, treatment planning, etc. Telehealth is based on the most updated technology solutions including video communications, wireless and broadband IP connection, wearable medical devices and web-based networks.
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