Virtual consultations have played a significant role in the current pandemic and are likely to continue post COVID-19, and possibly in future pandemic planning. They are used for patient consultations and follow-up appointments that do not need physical examination or tests. However, virtual consultations cannot be used in certain circumstances like patients with high risk conditions that require physical examination or when a close visual examination of an area may be required.
Virtual care cannot replace in-person care, but rather supplements it and serves as a digital ‘front door’ into a health system. It starts with a structured online patient interview with which the patient is guided through the same questions that would be asked in a face-face setting. It is important to note that in an in-person care setting, when a provider has a high patient load and the waiting room is full of patients, it may give them a sense of time pressure and occasionally information critical to an accurate diagnosis may be overlooked.
The interoperability of virtual systems and electronic healthcare/medical record systems (EHR/EMRs) is therefore important so that the right information is captured during the online interviews in relation to patient symptoms, and paired with the patient history data to give the provider diagnosis and treatment options. This can enable providers to diagnose and treat patients faster thus enhancing efficiency and facilitate more effective patient-provider interactions.
Communication lapses are one of the most critical issues facing health facilities today, potentially leading to medical errors and patient safety issues. A well designed virtual platform should have the ability to capture detailed, relevant patient symptoms along with provider diagnoses and treatment plans which could potentially eliminate the possibility of human error and communication gaps. With this information, providers can also determine whether patients require in-person care or can be treated via virtual care, which in turn can produce a return on investment in the form of measurable operational and clinical outcomes for health facilities.
It is therefore important for health facilities to look at the ‘bigger picture’ when integrating virtual systems. They not only enable continuity of care without physical interaction but they can also be used to enhance efficiency and clinical decision making through the use of historical and current patient data for improved patient outcomes if used in the right way. Our hope is that with the push in digital health adoption, medical professionals will take this opportunity to adopt new processes and facilitate better delivery of care.