Virtual care services are seen as one of the most promising solutions for the future of healthcare. They can deliver information and solutions between doctors and patients via the Internet by using different apps and technologies. Recent research shows that by adopting a virtual care system the overall health and outcomes of patients using that system can increase. Virtual care basically means that some doctors’ appointments become “virtual visits” that may happen via communications technology that allows the meetings to take place in real time. Some appointments can also be made by telephone or by using telemonitoring technology.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, UNC Health Care said that it will provide people in North Carolina with free access to its virtual care service. The free virtual visits were offered to the hurricane victims through September 16, but access has later been extended through September 23. Via phone, tablet or computer, the not-for-profit integrated health care system provides hurricane victims with virtual access to physicians who can quickly diagnose them and prescribe the proper medications where needed. As the death toll from Florence rose to 25 in North Carolina alone, some areas of the state are still facing severe flooding. This, in turn, makes access to healthcare difficult.
As many structures and roadways were flooded in North Carolina, Wilmington, with its population of about 120,000 was completely isolated by the storm. Emergency response teams struggled to save over 900 people from floodwaters, according to the BBC. Many were locked in houses or on roofs following what North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has called “a significant disaster that affects much of our state.” But hurricanes also provide new chances to address the problems of our health care system, because they are incidents that disrupted healthcare planning and intervention while testing the system’s strength.
UNC Health Care provided hurricane victims with a new type of service by allowing them real-time access to doctors via phone or mobile devices. “Last week, we said this was a way for UNC Health Care to serve North Carolinians during Hurricane Florence. Post-storm, we recognize a continuing need for this delivery of healthcare service for non-acute conditions. We hope this will provide some degree of relief to folks who may not be able to leave their homes or access their usual providers,” said Dr. Bill Roper, CEO of UNC Health Care. But are virtual visits good for the healthcare system on a regular basis or are they simply useful tools during a crisis?
Recent studies show serious consumer interest in various healthcare services provided virtually. According to a survey, 70 percent or more of the US respondents showed an interest in more than half of the services presented, while all of the services were of interest to at least 50 percent of respondents. Americans everywhere seem to be embracing the concept of virtual healthcare as telehealth and telemedicine services update and transform the healthcare sector. Even so, only 21 percent of the respondents claimed they have actually experienced a virtual visit.
While interest is growing among Americans, virtual care providers may need to expand their services or provide new ones. By changing work for technology, automating repetitive tasks and providing patients with control over some of the decisions, virtual health can optimize doctors’ work, prevent unnecessary hospitalizations and also improve the patient experience. By allowing patients to stay independent and by including them in the decision-making process, virtual care is actually increasing their satisfaction. And by offering personalized care and flexible hours, it may also improve health outcomes. It seems that virtual health can really make a real difference in the future of healthcare, but will that guarantee the best results?
Finding the right mix of traditional services and virtual care may prove to be a sure cure, as this will provide patients with the best alternatives when it comes to care and support. Patients certainly expect to exercise that choice in the digital age. Health care providers may need to upgrade their virtual care services as they are going to disrupt patient management and healthcare models worldwide. Virtual care may prove to be critical in the future, as it provides personalized, patient-centric care.