Virtual Healthcare and COVID-19

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It’s safe to say that the world was in no way prepared for the coronavirus pandemic – healthcare services were left scrambling to pick up the pieces, the NHS being brought to its knees under the weight of the nation in the UK. Many different private healthcare clinics stepped in to support the NHS, and the government has increased funding to further help release some of the strain which had reached an all-time high.

Thankfully, vaccines have been verified and a large percentage of the UK has received these vaccinations, and countries around the world are beginning to follow in the footsteps of the UK.

To say that the coronavirus pandemic has changed the healthcare sector is an understatement, both positively and negatively. Many steps have been taken by both public and private healthcare sectors to protect patients, including many services and treatments being moved online. But what does this all mean?

What Is Virtual Healthcare?

Many physicians and health systems around the world have adopted a ‘virtualised’ treatment option for patients, which may remove the need for physical meetings between patients and healthcare providers.

This move has been referred to as telemedicine, which essentially means virtual medicine. Although it’s too early to suggest that the virus is under control, with the current vaccinations success rate, it can be suggested that we are heading in the right direction towards a future in which the coronavirus pandemic no longer poses as such a serious threat.

 For conditions that can be treated through counselling such as mental health, virtual healthcare has proven to be just as effective as in-person visits. These benefits include convenience and improved access for individuals in remote locations, for example, or those with intense work/caregiving demands.

Healthcare systems have had to adjust the way they evaluate and care for patients using methods that don’t rely on in-person services. Virtual healthcare have helped provide necessary care to patients while keeping transmission risk of COVID-19 to an absolute minimum.

What Does Virtual Healthcare Look Like?

Virtual healthcare have a number of modalities that allow healthcare providers and patients to communicate accurately using technology to deliver care. These are:

  • Synchronous: This contains real-time telephone and/or live visual-audio interaction with a patient using either a smartphone, tablet or computer. Peripheral medical equipment is also used (e.g. digital stethoscopes, otoscopes, ultrasounds).
  • Asynchronous: This contains technology where messages, images and/or data is collected at one time, and responded to at a later time. ‘Patient portals’ can also facilitate this kind of communication between a healthcare provider and patient through secure and confidential evaluation.
  • Remote Patient Monitoring: This allows the direct transmission of a patient’s clinical measurements from a distance (but not limited to real-time) to their healthcare provider.

NHS England have developed a range of resources in order to help a number of different practices implement this ‘virtual healthcare’ approach. Technology applications such as Skype, WhatsApp or FaceTime can be considered for patients who urgently need video consultations with healthcare providers if alternative means are not readily available.

Of course, not all countries around the world have this advantage of virtual healthcare due to developmental issues, however with mobile/smartphone usage pretty much globally ubiquitous meaning that technological barriers to the adoption of virtual healthcare can be conquerable.

Policy changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced barriers to virtual healthcare access, and have promoted the use of virtual healthcare as a way to deliver acute, chronic, primary and specialty care. Many professional healthcare providers encourage virtual healthcare services.

Virtual healthcare services can facilitate effective strategies during the coronavirus pandemic by keeping virus transmissions low and increasing social distancing. It provides a safer option by significantly reducing potential infectious exposures.

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