The healthcare industry is transforming rapidly as facilities, healthcare providers, and medical professionals explore ways to improve patient experience and access to care while reducing healthcare costs. Through digital innovations, communication between healthcare professionals and patients has further improved by addressing challenges that hinder access to healthcare.

One example is healthcare market research recruitment, where companies provide caregivers and patients an opportunity to express their opinions through interviews and surveys for the development of medical products and services.

Through communication channels, patients can now reach out to their healthcare providers without leaving the comfort of their homes. Patients from rural communities or areas with limited clinical practices greatly benefit from this as they no longer require traveling long distances to see their doctors.

The ever-evolving healthcare technology has paved the way for digital medical services such as virtual care and telemedicine. While these services have been used for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of telehealth and virtual care as people have to stay indoors. As more patients and healthcare providers are gradually embracing digital health, it makes sense to understand how these terms, particularly virtual care, are transforming care delivery.

What is virtual care?

Interestingly, there’s no standard definition of virtual care as the healthcare community has various interpretations. For this discussion, we’ll explain virtual care based on the definition of the Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV).

Virtual care refers to any interaction between patients and healthcare professionals occurring remotely using any digital communication tool. Its principal aim is to maximize or facilitate the effectiveness and quality of patient experience and care.

In other words, virtual care refers to “virtual visits” that take place between clinicians and patients through communications technology, such as mental health applications or video conferencing software. In this case, audio and video connectivity facilitate virtual meetings that occur in real-time from any location.

Virtual care occurs in a videoconference platform when both participants can’t be in the same place and time. The patient can communicate with their medical specialist through a video conference platform instead of coming to the provider’s local clinic. Since virtual care often comes cheaper than on-site visits, patients can readily seek second opinions from other providers who also offer the same service.

The difference between telehealth and virtual care

Since the emergence of digital health services, many have interchangeably used virtual care with other terms such as “telehealth,” “telemedicine,” and “digital health.” While the four terms share a few similarities, each of them has intimate differences.

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Digital health is a broad term that encompasses all forms of healthcare-related interactions through information technology (IT) or electronic communication tools. It includes mobile health, health IT, wearable devices, telehealth, telemedicine, and personalized medicine.

Telehealth refers to the use of telecommunication tools to support remote clinical and non-clinical services. Meanwhile, telemedicine is a subset of telehealth, which specifically refers to clinical services, such as diagnosis and medical treatment of different medical conditions without face-to-face appointments.

Among the three definitions, many people are using virtual care and telehealth synonymously. In simple words, virtual care is a telehealth component, which refers to patient-physician interactions facilitated by digital communication tools. In contrast, telehealth extends to remote patient monitoring and electronic medical records.

The right approaches to virtual care

As virtual care becomes a critical feature of digital healthcare, providers must identify the best strategy for applying digital solutions in healthcare settings and service offerings.

When building a strategic approach to virtual care, healthcare providers must begin by setting realistic goals associated with their strategy. This means the provider’s virtual care strategy supports the enterprise’s goals. Determine the factors related to the growth strategy and identify which virtual solutions work best for the organization and patient outcomes.

The next step is to assess the current state of the organization concerning the operational and technical capabilities to support the virtual care strategy. This will identify whether they should buy or build the right technology platform to facilitate their services. From there, organizations should put virtual care at the center of their decision-making and management capabilities. This will allow them to build stronger telehealth expertise and governance.

As patients and healthcare providers try to understand and navigate the use of digital health, it’s important to know how virtual care will improve the quality and access to care. In a time when technology is available to help us stay connected and overcome challenges, embracing new forms of digital health will pave the way for a variety of options to receive immediate and quality care.

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