In my previous post, I talked about how virtual care is a clinical practice approach that allows healthcare service delivery to occur anywhere at any time. As technologies have emerged it has become increasingly easier to support virtual care, which was once limited to house phones, answering services and pagers. What remains unchanged as technology evolves to wireless, Web and social media, are the characteristics and skills required by both the healthcare provider and the patient for effective, efficient and safe virtual care. That is why virtual care is not for everyone. I know this flies in the face of the latest technology news that is touting technology as the cure for all of our healthcare woes, however it’s not the end all – be all solution for every clinical practice issue and patient care problem.
Even as innovative technologies emerge and become increasingly sophisticated, healthcare will always require face to face human interaction to recognize facial and body cues not obvious during virtual care episodes. In addition face to face encounters (whether they occur in the patients home or in a healthcare provider office) strengthens the trust and sustainability of the relationship, while supporting care interventions.
Virtual care is both a clinical practice model and model of patient care approach. It is an advanced level of practice, incorporated when a strong relationship exists where both the healthcare provider and patient agree to participatory care. What this means is that the healthcare provider acknowledges the patient as an equal partner and recognizes the value of the contributions the patient provides. This type of interaction allows true collaboration between the patient and the healthcare provider. The patient can spend time researching and delving deep to learn about their condition and impact on their own lifestyle while the healthcare provider can provide a range of treatment options for the patient to evaluate.
For patients this means they have reached a point in their health status where they have become engaged and empowered to self-manage. The patient has developed a level of health literacy that allows them to seek and access health information, ability to comprehend health information and ability to monitor health status data associated to chronic conditions. This type of patient is willing and able or has a caregiver that can participate in timely interactive communication with the healthcare practitioner and make adjustments to home treatment protocols when medical condition changes. The profile of a virtual care patient includes:
• High self-efficacy
• Problem solving skills
• Health literacy
• Decision making capacity
• Motivated and ready for change
For healthcare providers to support virtual care practice they have reached a point in their career where they have become comfortable with the aspect of patient’s helping themselves and utilizing the healthcare providers in a consultative capacity as opposed to directive and paternalistic interaction. This type of healthcare provider has strong communication/dialogue skills, is willing and able to support nontraditional clinical practice hours utilizing an interdisciplinary team and technology that enables 24/7 access to expert advice and health information when needed. The profile of a virtual care healthcare provider:
• Patient centric
• Flexible and adaptable
• Excellent communication skills
• Strong evidence based practice
• Committed to lifelong learning
• Knowledge of comparative effectiveness
• Willingness to support care anywhere at anytime
• Motivated and ready for change
In order for virtual care to work both the patient and the provider need to match the profiles as listed above. If only one person in the patient-provider relationship has profile characteristics it is not enough to move forward with the virtual care approach. Doing so will only cause frustration, exacerbate poor communications skills, jeopardize the trust within the relationship and may affect the overall health and safety of the patient. Virtual care could be the next best thing or your worst nightmare. Virtual care is not for everyone, however if you are patient centric, providing evidence based care, you will know when it is the right thing to do.