When we think of healthcare, we imagine going to the doctor and getting a face-to-face checkup. This is how humans have received medical care for centuries.
Times are changing and we can now access healthcare virtually. Telehealth was slowly creeping into our everyday reality before the pandemic sent it into overdrive. Telehealth usage has now stabilised at 38x pre-pandemic levels, truly phenomenal growth.
Table of contents
- What is Telehealth
- What is Virtual Healthcare
- Telehealth vs Virtual Healthcare
- What Does the Future Hold?
The pandemic caused a sudden and intense need for large-scale remote human-physician interactions. Telehealth blew up to fill this void. Remote access to healthcare eliminates many of the downsides of physical checkups. Travel, parking and waiting, these are all things that we hate about in-person healthcare.
Virtual healthcare and telehealth are often confused as being the same thing. Today we’ll explore the difference between virtual healthcare and telehealth before diving into the future of telehealth.
What is Telehealth
Telehealth is an umbrella term incorporating every online interaction between patients and healthcare services.
In 2023 we have access to a huge variety of virtual healthcare services. They range from consultations with physicians to apps designed to boost mental well-being and manage specific ailments.
The telehealth space is growing at an incredible rate. The global telehealth market is set to increase from $91 billion in 2021 to $636 billion by 2028. Healthcare providers are rapidly expanding into the space as a matter of urgency. 40% of customers believe they will continue to use telemedicine, up from 11% before the pandemic.
Here are some examples of telehealth services:
- Remote assistance for intensive care teams
- Wearable biosensors to manage ailments
- Health education services
- Mobile medical apps
- Digital therapeutics
- Information hubs like Apple Health
What is Virtual Healthcare
Virtual healthcare specifically refers to interactions between patients and medical professionals. Usually to manage or treat medical conditions.
Regular checkups and follow-up appointments are included in the virtual healthcare category. Medical professionals can now diagnose and treat patients from anywhere in the world.
Remote appointments are best employed when dealing with common medical complaints, prescreening, triage or patients with a well-known medical history. Complex patient cases should be dealt with using in-person visits. The need for in-person appointments can be established using a remote visit.
Dozens of mobile apps let patients access medical professionals from anywhere in the world. Notable examples include Teladoc and Amwell.
Telehealth vs Virtual Healthcare
Innovations in the for-profit telehealth space have supported the rise of virtual healthcare. Before the extra demand for these services, growth in the sector was slow.
The telehealth space is a hub of innovation and is supported by dozens of new technologies. Virtual healthcare focuses on traditional means of digital communication, like video and audio calls to support remote appointments.
Many patients are fearful of losing the personal connection they have with their physicians. However, Harvard Business reviews found that after testing virtual care, more than 74% of patients felt that a virtual interaction improved their relationship with their provider.
Telehealth uptake varies through healthcare specialities. Some specialities have proven suitable for the rapid uptake of telehealth. Psychiatry and treatment for substance abuse appointments are 40% and 30% virtual, respectively. Specialities such as dental and oncology naturally have fewer opportunities for virtual appointments and sit at 8%.
What Does the Future Hold?
Telehealth helps us manage our health in new and exciting ways. It offers glimpses of being able to provide healthcare to those in poverty on a scale never thought possible. Like Tesla's "Starlink" internet satellites, virtual healthcare has the power to deliver high-quality, affordable healthcare to every corner of the world.
Virtual healthcare is no longer a luxury reserved for those with generous budgets. Telehealth is quickly becoming an affordable way for millions of people to manage their health.
The positive effects of telehealth are set to be amplified by advances in the world of virtual and augmented reality. These technologies are opening new doors to innovative forms of treatment and patient/physician relations. When VR and AR are combined with the potential benefits of AI and advancements in telehealth, we could see a perfect storm for rapid improvements in healthcare capability.
Thanks to the success of telehealth and virtual care during the pandemic, we see more healthcare providers adopting telehealth solutions. New technological developments will open the door to widespread healthcare at affordable prices.
Telehealth will continue attracting more providers and patients in the coming decade. The benefits will be compounded by technological advances like AR/VR and Artificial Intelligence. It’s a very exciting time to be active in this space.