Virtual medical solutions rank amongst the most exciting and interesting ways healthcare providers leverage digital technology to improve medical care. They have the potential to transform healthcare provision as we know it, improving access, clinical outcomes and engagement with services.
In this article, we define virtual healthcare, explain how healthcare providers use these solutions and explore seven ways they are impacting the future of medical care.
What is virtual healthcare?
Virtual healthcare involves the delivery of medical services via a range of digital technologies, including video calls, online consultations and interactive user-facing platforms.
In its research, Deloitte defines the concept as:
“Continuous, connected care delivered via digital and telecommunication technologies. It includes video visits and telemedicine, remote monitoring, asynchronous communication, medication adherence, and clinician- or provider-facing solutions, such as virtual consults and virtual second opinions.”
In the above definition, both connected and continuous are important qualifiers. Virtual healthcare depends on solutions that integrate with larger digital systems and contribute and extract data from electronic patient records databases and similar resources. The aim is to provide patients with effective digital alternatives to in-person services. As such, connectivity and continuity are essential.
Understanding the current virtual healthcare landscape
Many healthcare organisations are starting to incorporate virtual healthcare elements into their service provision. Others are yet to begin. Either way, we are very much at the start of the implementation process.
To understand the current virtual healthcare landscape, we must look at it from two perspectives. The extent to which healthcare providers are adopting the technology and the extent to which patients are utilising it.
McKinsey’s research into early virtual healthcare technology use in the US provides insight into the latter. It shows that usage is highly uneven and determined by various demographic factors, most notably income, age and geography. Rural populations, lower-income households and older people are much less likely to utilise virtual health solutions. This demonstrates the significant work required to encourage widespread adoption across all user groups.
When it comes to providers integrating this type of technology, Deloitte researchers argue the COVID pandemic had a significant impact on adoption. While telehealth is just one aspect of virtual health solutions, its use increased from 17% to 47% within 12 months. Statista also reports that approximately 24% of clinicians surveyed currently use patient apps and wearables to support healthcare delivery.
Exploring the benefits of virtual healthcare
The central driving force behind virtual healthcare adoption is the idea that digital solutions can improve clinical outcomes, making services safer and more effective for users. It does so in several ways, many of which we will touch on as we explore the benefits below. In some cases, it achieves this indirectly. For instance, when we implement virtual healthcare solutions to ease the pressure on healthcare professionals, they enable those professionals to dedicate more time, focus and resources to in-person cases, improving outcomes in the process.
However, virtual healthcare technology also impacts clinical outcomes directly. For instance, it can act as a safeguard or safety check, eliminating human error and improving decision-making. Practically, virtual healthcare solutions can help patients manage their medication, reducing the likelihood of mistakes.
Below, we examine seven ways virtual medical healthcare is changing our approach to service provision.
Not everyone can attend in-person healthcare consultations and visits. Factors like work commitments, disabilities and transportation availability are common obstacles for patients. And they are not easily overcome. This problem is exacerbated when health issues require regular treatments or in-person appointments.
Virtual healthcare solutions improve access by enabling patients to engage with services remotely. Whether via a video consultation or a dedicated healthcare app, virtual technologies are an effective alternative for those who cannot attend in person due to time, transportation or personal constraints.
2. Engagement with medical care
Some medical services can benefit from greater patient engagement with care. Maternity services are an excellent example. Though not always the case, some parents struggle with a sense of powerlessness during and after pregnancy. This can develop into anxiety and frustration.
The sensation of powerlessness over this intensely personal process is often a result of insufficient information or the perception that maternity medical care is too one-sided and something that happens to parents rather than with them.
Self-service healthcare solutions can combat these issues by providing parents with a channel through which they can access information about pregnancy, contribute directly to their maternity care by completing tests, and engage with maternity professionals. Omda iPana Maternity is an excellent example. An innovative cloud-based platform, it enables expectant mothers, hospitals and maternity clinics to collect, store and share important medical information at every stage of pregnancy, resulting in a more interactive and connected experience for expectant mothers.
3. Improved communication and care coordination
Virtual healthcare solutions typically facilitate greater collaboration and improve communication between various aspects of the healthcare system. As they create a shared care record that different professionals and teams can access quickly and efficiently, they eliminate many of the problems associated with traditional paper-based methods, such as lost documents, improper filing or not knowing that action needs to be taken.
Solutions can also prompt professionals with reminders and alerts, encouraging them to take action. Finally, they speed up communication, making it almost instantaneous and eradicating delays that could impact patient safety.
4. More personalised healthcare delivery
Virtual healthcare solutions facilitate more personalised and tailored patient care by collecting more personal data, making decisions based on that information and enabling users to engage with services. For instance, applications can suggest services or treatment pathways based on historic patient data, allow patients to contact healthcare professionals they worked with previously or send healthcare alerts based on information or medical metrics submitted by the patient.
Experts expect wearable healthcare devices to play a significant role in enabling this transformation. Deloitte research shows that 88% of healthcare executives believe wearable healthcare devices will soon be integrated into care delivery, resulting in more tailored and personalised service. When you consider the popularity of health apps on mobile devices – FitBit, iOS Health, Woop and the like – it is clear that much of the data required to revolutionise personal healthcare delivery is already readily available.
Automated digital solutions are, on the whole, more cost-effective than the manual processes they replace. In many cases, they perform certain functions more quickly, efficiently and accurately than human professionals, reducing costs and increasing capacity. This is particularly true of virtual healthcare solutions, as in-person appointments are remarkably time-intensive and expensive.
This cost is further compounded by missed appointments. In England alone, more than 15 million GP appointments are wasted annually due to no-shows or cancellations. NHS England calculates the total cost of these appointments at £216 million a year.
However, the statistics do not account for the reasons people miss appointments, which may include many of the issues we listed when discussing accessibility – namely, the effects of chronic health conditions, lack of transport or urgent personal responsibilities. In these instances, virtual health technologies could be an effective solution and enable patients to access services without attending in person, reducing missed appointments and eliminating expensive inefficiencies in the system.
6. Reduced pressure on healthcare staff
In many healthcare systems, medical professionals are stretched to the limit. A lack of funding, staff shortages and the impact of the COVID pandemic have resulted in significant burnout and, in many instances, pushed healthcare workers to the brink. In the UK, 92% of NHS Trusts report concerns about staff burnout and wellbeing (UK Parliament). Staff surveys also reveal that only a quarter of healthcare professionals believe they are adequately staffed to perform their jobs properly and a third report feeling burned out (British Safety Council).
Virtual healthcare solutions have a role to play in easing the pressure on healthcare professionals. By automating relatively basic tasks, such as appointment scheduling and information communication, they allow medical staff to focus their attention on pressing cases. System efficiencies, such as seamless access to comprehensive patient care records, make work quicker, easier and more manageable, too.
7. Service optimisation
Budget limitations mean healthcare systems are always looking for ways to do more with less. In some settings, inefficiencies are obvious and careful management goes a long way to improving performance. However, in complex, high-performing healthcare organisations, identifying inefficiencies is not always straightforward. To do so requires data-backed analysis and insights.
Virtual healthcare technology can contribute considerable amounts of data for this purpose. Resource optimisation solutions are already integral to other parts of the healthcare system. For instance, Omda Optima Predict is an advanced modelling solution that helps emergency response organisations make the best use of their assets and resources. It enables decision-makers to run detailed simulations using data collected from front-line service technologies, such as in-ambulance navigation platforms.
In the future, virtual health solutions can play a similar role, providing the data required to optimise healthcare provision in other areas. From how healthcare decision-makers target specific healthcare services for maximum impact to the types of virtual health technology it employs, this data will be invaluable when designing more efficient systems.
In much the same way, virtual healthcare solutions will provide the data on which critical medical research is conducted in the future. Historically, such large data sets were impossible. Today, digital solutions and associated databases are making large-scale statistical studies a reality.
Potential drawbacks of virtual healthcare
While there are plenty of benefits to virtual healthcare technologies, there are challenges and potential drawbacks, too. We identify three main concerns:
1. Structural and technological challenges
These include structural factors that may hinder access to digital solutions. For instance, inadequate broadband speeds in an area may make video calls difficult. Cost may also be prohibitive for some patients – not everyone can afford the technology required to access virtual healthcare services. This is a question of access. Healthcare providers will need to consider how they guarantee continued access to those whom virtual solutions may not serve well.
2. Legal challenges
There are also significant data security, privacy and regulatory concerns associated with virtual healthcare technologies. Protecting personal medical information is a primary concern. That said, authorities will also introduce new regulations for emerging technologies, such as generative AI. While complex and potentially costly, these issues are easily resolved by working with digital healthcare specialists with experience and expertise in data security and compliance.
3. Isolation and over-reliance on digital
Healthcare provision often involves discussing difficult and complicated personal issues. Some people prefer to do this face-to-face, as they find digital technology impersonal. In these instances, healthcare providers need to ensure they offer a suitable alternative.
This is not necessarily an inherent issue with digital technology. Some people benefit from the relative “anonymity” virtual health systems provide and prefer the distance they place between themselves and a healthcare professional. Others dislike this “impersonal” approach. Here, the key is providing choice.
Looking ahead – What the future holds for virtual healthcare
We are in no doubt that virtual healthcare will become a critical component of advanced healthcare systems in the near future. However, it will not replace traditional in-person delivery.
In well-designed and effective healthcare systems, virtual health solutions will complement and augment in-person services, providing opportunities to engage with digital technologies at appropriate times and with relevant cases. Identifying areas where virtual healthcare solutions will have maximum impact and deliver significant benefits for patients and providers alike is half the battle.
In this sense, virtual healthcare implementation is as much about designing considered digital systems and understanding patient behaviour, as it is the solutions themselves. A powerful virtual healthcare app can be rendered worthless by poor implementation and a lack of understanding when it comes to the broader healthcare ecosystem.
Healthcare providers cannot afford to focus exclusively on user-facing virtual healthcare solutions. Yes, the apps, wearables, monitors and portals are the most visible and immediate components in virtual healthcare solutions. But providers cannot even come close to exploiting their full potential if they are not built on comprehensive and connected backend systems.
Digital technology has the potential to connect diverse aspects of healthcare provision in a way that was previously impossible. As a result, it can improve healthcare outcomes, patient safety and workplace efficiency. To achieve this, providers must prioritise connectivity and embrace a strategic, long-term approach to technology investment that aims to transform service provision and management across the entire healthcare system.
Omda virtual health solutions
At Omda, our self-serve healthcare solutions include Omda S7, Omda iPana Maternity, the CSAM ProSang app and Omda Cytodose. To further illustrate how the virtual healthcare benefits we discussed above are applied in a practical context, we will take a brief look at each of these solutions.
Omda S7 is a virtual health platform that enables citizens to access a wide range of clinical and social care services via a dedicated portal and engage in a secure dialogue with care professionals. Users can engage with their care by providing home measurements on healthcare metrics like weight and blood pressure, participate in remote consultations and complete digital forms and questionnaires. Though it was developed for Finnish healthcare organisations, the modular system’s adaptability means it can be applied in diverse healthcare settings.
Omda iPana Maternity
Omda iPana Maternity is the user-facing aspect component of the Omda iPana solution. It partners with Omda iPana Hospital to create an end-to-end digital health solution for maternity care. It is a cloud-based platform that provides women with more ways to actively participate in their pregnancy care provision by facilitating home monitoring and offering access to an advice and information hub.
Omda ProSang app
Omda ProSang is a comprehensive blood, cell and tissue management solution that is used in five countries and by more than 180 blood centres. It includes a smartphone-enabled web app that enables blood donors to book donation appointments and manage the donation process. It integrates with the wider Omda ProSang solution, so clinics and health centres also benefit from the information users provide.
Omda Cytodose is an oncology medication management platform that supports safe outpatient administration of medication. It incorporates a user-facing medication management app that empowers patients to administer their home medications, includes information on certain types of medications and provides channels for asynchronous information sharing between patients and clinicians.
Omda is committed to delivering technology that improves clinical outcomes and patient safety. Our virtual health solutions are designed to integrate with providers’ existing digital technologies and leverage synergies with clinician-facing Omda solutions. We believe healthcare organisations can benefit from connected digital technologies that streamline workflows, increase productivity via automation and digital efficiencies, and offer patients a superior healthcare experience.