When virtual consultations started getting attention a few years ago, the debate was about whether it is ethical to consult a patient, even your own, without actually meeting them. But as more health providers began to see the merit in remotely communicating with their patients, the question soon became, “How can we make this work?”
Of course, there are a few aspects to consider.
Is it safe to consult remotely?
With a wide array of video calling and online messaging services, it is fair to say that patients and health providers are now more connected than they ever were. However, the concern with instant messaging and video calling channels, as well as using social media, email and telephone for consultations is the lack of safety and privacy. Information disclosed on these channels are not protected. What this means is that the need to maintain doctor-patient confidentiality is lost.
Another concern with such platforms is that they do not maintain a record of the communication between health providers and patients. As they are not exclusive to health communication, it is a nearly impossible to maintain a record of previous interactions, save health data that was shared or even reference an earlier discussion. Therefore, when choosing to communicate remotely, health providers need to rely on a more reliable platform to engage with their patients for effective healthcare delivery.
Is it legal?
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns with remote communication and care was the fear that it may not be ethical or legal for a clinic to provide healthcare solutions this way. However, much like medical camps in remote areas, using services like telemedicine, online consultations and remote health monitoring should be seen as a way of increasing the reach of healthcare.
Many countries and government organisations have passed legislation to allow for improved accessibility to health services for those in need. Virtual online consultations and remote care, as well as telemedicine, are legal and recognised as effective methods to engage with existing patients and to support patients who may otherwise not have access to quality healthcare services.
Is it right to diagnose patients without seeing them?
Remote care and virtual consultations are not meant to replace face-to-face consultations or clinic visits. On the contrary, it is meant to help clinics and medical practices manage their time better so as to meet more patients each day. This means being able to follow-up remotely with existing patients, thereby freeing up time to meet new patients at the clinic.
Remote consultations are meant to be a way of offering continuous care and health monitoring between clinic visits. With access to their health records and previous medical history, it is possible for health providers to provide support and health solutions to their patients remotely.
Are there any benefits of remote consultations over regular clinic visits?
Remote care and virtual consultations are helpful for patients who are unable to visit the clinic for minor health concerns. It allows patients based in other locations, elderly patients and those who may not be feeling up to travelling to be able to get help for their health concerns.
Unlike phone calls and social media or instant messaging, previous consultations and health records can be accessed when using health-specific consultation platforms. This makes it easy for health providers to assess their patient’s health history and make informed decisions about their treatment.
Besides saving patients travel times and costs, remote care and virtual consultations help clinics manage time effectively, allowing for more in-clinic consultations and increased revenues. Overall patient satisfaction and an increase in patient referrals are also a likely possibility.
Is it possible to get reimbursed for this type of engagement?
Yes, absolutely. This is perhaps one of the key differentiators of remote monitoring and online consultation tools. Platforms like the Virtual Practice allow clinics to set suitable appointment slots and consultation charges for virtual consultations and health monitoring services. So unlike telephone and email consultations, health providers will be reimbursed for any after-hour consultations.
Will it be a challenge for health providers and clinic staff to adopt new technology?
Any new technology requires training to understand the nuances of the tool. Training clinic staff and health providers are essential to ensure proper utilization of the tool and to have a return on investment (ROI). It is essential to devote some time to learn how to best make use of all the features and capabilities of your clinic’s tool so as to derive the maximum benefit from it, both for health providers and patients alike.
How will patients adapt to this new behaviour?
Making patients aware is the first step. A survey revealed that over 50% of patients would follow-up with a doctor online if they had the option. Being able to remotely communicate and have their health monitored by their doctors would be a welcome change for patients.
Health providers and clinics need to educate their patients and help them understand how to use online engagement tools to communicate with providers at the clinic. Proactive involvement by patients, supported by encouragement and prompt responses from the clinic will see quick adoption of new technology.
Is it expensive to set up specialized services for clinics?
With the number of healthcare software and mobile apps offering value-based services to health providers and clinics, your consultation tool is not likely to burn a hole in your pocket. It is vital to carry out due diligence and understand the capabilities of the tool. Determine whether it is the right choice for your clinic, staff and patients.
The healthcare marketplace offers clinics a wide array of tools for telemedicine, clinic management and online consultations. It also goes one step further with health applications for mobile which can be suitably adopted for your practice. It is also possible to customize your healthcare IT tool. For instance, ContinuousCare allows you to integrate its ready-to-use Virtual Practice patient engagement platform or even customize it with a wide array of features specific to your requirement.
Remote care and virtual consultations were born out of a requirement in healthcare delivery. It represents a need for better doctor-patient engagement, clearer communication and continuous care. The exciting part about this technology is that it is in its infancy and has immense potential to benefit millions across the globe, ensuring that quality healthcare is not a privilege of a few but a right for all.