What is virtual care?

Virtual care is a clinical practice delivery approach utilizing technology. The technology enables healthcare professionals to offer service in an unconventional way, outside the confines of traditional care settings like healthcare facilities or physician offices. However virtual care is not about the technology, in fact it has very little to do with the technology and is about how healthcare professionals utilize tools to provide service anywhere at any time as a matter of economics, convenience and/or performance.

Therefore virtual care can either do one of two things, it can 1. Enhance the healthcare professional’s practice or 2. Exacerbate poor clinical and communication skills. Because of this, healthcare professionals need fundamental practice elements in place before implementing any type of virtual care approaches like telephone consultations, email dialogue, social media interactions and Web/Video conferencing to name just a few examples.  The key components to any virtual care program include understanding and adherence to professional practice standards both local and national, documented models of care and patient characteristics which successfully support virtual care, identification of technologies role in clinician practice and model of care and the measures framework to evaluate virtual care approach contributions to clinical practice process and patient care outcomes.

When healthcare professionals plan in this manner before providing virtual care, the healthcare professional will evolve and improve virtual care practice regardless of technology innovations.  That is why virtual care is not a novel idea; for decades healthcare professionals have provided remote consultation, evaluation and education services through telephone and fax.

Those that have been most successful are clinicians that have been able to use the existing technologies to its fullest capacity. What is different now is the widespread availability of technology tools by both the healthcare professional and patient, it is no longer considered a premium service but rather a core need by both the provider and patient. Eventually virtual care will no longer be considered non-conventional/non-conforming care and will become an acceptable standard form of clinical practice. Until that time, we will need to develop the standards for general acceptance.

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