Out of all the changes that Covid-19 has made to our lifestyles and our daily preferences, it would not be unfair to say that virtual healthcare has been one of the most, if not the most, prevalent trend on the rise. With the social isolation instructions in place, the reluctance to expose oneself to unnecessary risk and the lack of accommodation for patients other than those affected by coronavirus in hospitals, it is fairly reasonable to see a growing number of individuals switching to telehealth visits.
There is abundant research observing the growing inclination towards virtual healthcare. According to Virtual Health Manager Nicki Perisho, the lockdown and isolation situation resulted in the use of telehealth multiplying by 500 per day.
Why are Patients shifting to Virtual Care?
In a contactless world we live in, virtual care is not just a safer option but is super convenient and provides near universal availability. It is especially beneficial for patients with chronic diseases. Three-forth of annual health care costs in the USA are associated with chronic conditions, and developing a routine for selfcare can be a good and cheaper way to manage such conditions.
Since virtual care is always available, patients tend to form habits of selfcare. James Clear’s habit-forming model is a good way of explaining how such habits form. There are 4 stages in this model, Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward. The Cue in the case of Telehealth is a notification. The Craving is the attention the patient gives to the cue. As a Response, the patient performs the task for example takes their medication, and finally the Reward is the relief and satisfaction the patient feels. When, for example, a patient uses an app to keep track of their blood pressure, they will be conditioned to regularly check their blood pressure and take medication. This can save the patient hospital visits and incorporate self-care in their daily routine.
Another important reason virtual care is being opted is the increased awareness of mental health. According to Health Affairs, approximately 60 percent of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services beneficiaries received mental health help through telehealth. The COVID-19 has created a fear of death, illness, and financial instability, to name a few. In these circumstances, video calls are an excellent substitute for in person therapy sessions.
Is Virtual Care Effective?
Accenture surveyed 2700 patients who changed their healthcare routine during COVID-19, and 70% revealed that they had to cancel or postpone treatment appointments. About half of the participants reported that they had switched to virtual care instead, because the response time was faster, and patients were able to take control over their treatments including the time. Cigna International told ITIJ that downloads of its telehealth app rose 130 per cent and logins increased 134 per cent between February and March 2020, indicating the role of the pandemic in accelerating the use of virtual care.
It is not to be ignored, however, that a few health services cannot be provided unless a patient is seen by a professional in person. Such instances include the requirement of a physical checkup or test which may not give a similar outcome when performed virtually. More importantly, elderly patients are facing problems adjusting with technology and are not comfortable using telehealth, according to Kate Stephens, the public information officer at Cabinet Peaks Medical Center.
The Future of Virtual Care
Virtual care is clearly not just an alternative because of the COVID-19 situation but is here to stay. Its progress so far shows that even though clinical healthcare may not go out of fashion completely, Virtual care is already on its way to take over most modes of healthcare, including chronic and mental health problems, making the treatment more efficient and cost effective.