Hate waiting around in clinics? Here’s how virtual healthcare is changing that.
Still a doctor on the otherside of the line credit:Unsplash
Everyone has been there: sitting in a clinic, your smartphone battery warning you it’s down to its last 9%, while your queue number suggests a lengthy wait ahead. Waiting rooms at hospitals or clinics often symbolise one of the most prominent pain points in healthcare delivery: inefficiency.
Why does this occur?
Well…a whole bunch of reasons. Doctors must manage a multitude of patients, handle unexpected emergencies, or unravel complex cases that invariably prolong appointments. Additionally, administrative tasks and non-standard cases amplify these challenges.
But that’s where virtual healthcare can help.
What is virtual healthcare?
Virtual healthcare, simply put, refers to the delivery of healthcare services through telecommunication technologies, such as video conferencing, mobile apps, and remote monitoring devices. Its core goal is to harness digital technologies to improve healthcare delivery, reduce inefficiencies, and curb costs. Some examples of virtual healthcare include…
Telemedicine: This is the use of telecommunications technology to provide medical care from a distance. For example, a patient can see a doctor via video chat or speak to a nurse over the phone.
Telehealth education: This is the use of telecommunications technology to deliver healthcare education to patients and healthcare professionals. For example, a hospital might use a video conferencing platform to provide continuing education to its nurses.
Telemonitoring: This is the use of telecommunications technology to monitor patients’ health remotely. For example, a patient with heart failure might use a device to track their heart rate and blood pressure at home.
Virtual patient portals: These are websites or apps that allow patients to access their medical records, communicate with their healthcare providers, and schedule appointments online.
Virtual urgent care: This is a service that allows patients to see a doctor for non-emergency care without having to go to an emergency room.
Virtual behavioural health: This is a service that provides mental health care to patients remotely. Virtual pharmacy: This is a service that allows patients to order prescription medications online and have them delivered to their homes.
Virtual rehabilitation: This is a service that provides rehabilitation services to patients remotely.
What are the benefits of virtual healthcare?
Yes, virtual healthcare does cut down waiting time in clinics and hospitals, but that’s only the beginning. Here’re some to consider.
Fewer trips to the hospital
Virtual healthcare offers an avenue for patients who are undergoing or have recently undergone treatment, like those managing chronic diseases such as diabetes or hypertension.
Routine monitoring of vitals can also be done at home, and medical consultations can be facilitated via secure video conferencing.
In emergencies, when rescue services might be delayed, telemedicine can be instrumental. Guidance on how to provide first aid can be relayed via video call, potentially making the difference between life and death.
A second opinion at your fingertips
Virtual healthcare also comes in handy when dealing with rare or unusual medical conditions. It allows patients to get a quick second opinion from relevant specialists, regardless of their geographical location. However, it should be noted that virtual consultations may not be as comprehensive as in-person visits and might be prone to errors.
Keeps infections at bay
During disease outbreaks, such as the SARS episode in 2003, and more recently, the COVID pandemic, telemedicine proved its utility as a medium for avoiding the spread of infections. Patients were able to send in photos and receive diagnoses over the phone, minimising risk while still receiving care.
Healthcare professionals benefit too!
It isn’t just patients that virtual healthcare can help. A study by McKinsey has suggested that virtual health care might be the key to offering respite to overwhelmed healthcare systems (and by extension, professionals).
As healthcare systems grapple with issues like growing disease burdens, ageing populations, staffing shortages, and constrained resources, the need for more accessible and cost-effective care models is paramount.
In this regard, virtual healthcare offers three key advantages over traditional care models.
Firstly, they provide expanded bed capacity, allowing healthcare systems to meet fluctuating demands flexibly and rapidly.
Secondly, they enhance patient satisfaction and outcomes, as many patients prefer to receive care in the comfort of their homes.
Thirdly, they contribute to cost savings, enabling more efficient resource allocation.
Beyond these benefits, virtual healthcare significantly reduces travel time and expenses for healthcare teams. For example, staff at nursing homes won’t need to accompany patients to hospitals for consultations, maintaining consistent staffing levels.
A local look at virtual healthcare in Singapore
For the layperson, virtual healthcare is often synonymous with telemedicine, and apps such as DoctorAnywhere and White Coat that gained prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But did you know that Singapore has been providing telehealth services since April 2017? This service, known as Smart Health Video Consultation, has been implemented at the following hospitals, along with 31 community care partners:
- Changi General Hospital-
- Institute of Mental Health
- Khoo Teck Puat Hospital
- KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
- National University Hospital
- Singapore General Hospital
- SingHealth Polyclinics
- Sengkang General Hospital
- Tan Tock Seng Hospital
The current list of services that are offered via telemedicine are: follow-up services for paediatric eczema, home care services for paediatric patients, lactation consultations, speech therapy, and care for post-stroke, infectious disease, and cancer patients.
Virtual consultations are facilitated via the patients’ own mobile devices or laptops, connecting through the internet or 3G/4G/LTE networks. Healthcare teams send an email or SMS link to patients for consultation sessions. These platforms offer high-definition (HD) video and audio quality, mimicking a face-to-face consultation – so kinda like Microsoft Teams, but with your doctor.
What’s next for virtual healthcare?
Admittedly, the momentum of virtual healthcare worldwide has slowed down post-pandemic, as life returns to normal.
However, it is important to remember that progress doesn’t always follow a straight path. There will be peaks and valleys, and the slight dip in the use of telehealth services post-pandemic could simply be one of these valleys.
As with any disruptive innovation, adoption takes time, and sometimes it takes a step back to leap forward. In the grand scheme of things, the promise of virtual healthcare is still compelling. Let’s not forget, the demand for accessible, affordable, and quality healthcare isn’t going anywhere. The pressure on healthcare systems worldwide continues to intensify.
Virtual healthcare? It could very well be a part of the solution.https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/hate-waiting-around-in-clinics