Is Virtual Care here to stay?


The Covid pandemic has ushered in and accelerated a new era of virtuality. Virtual team and client meetings, virtual shopping, virtual schooling and even in the traditional healthcare arena virtual consultations.

Virtual care is not a new idea

However virtual healthcare is not a new idea. Even before the advent of the telephone, Healthcare workers have been approached by anxious relatives in shops or on the street asking what they would advise for a sick relative at home. This is especially true in smaller communities where there is a feeling of community ownership of Family Doctors and other Healthcare professionals. This was a type of virtual consultation where the Doctor had to try and remotely ascertain the symptoms the patient was experiencing and the signs of disease that they were displaying. Then with the advent of the telephone those virtual consultations became more of a live consultation. “Ask him if he has pain anywhere”, “Does she have a rash with her headache and if so does it disappear when you press on it?” Virtual consultations but more in the moment.

Now with the advent of secure face to face remote video consultations we have taken virtual care to the next level. The doctor can now see the patient on video and try to ascertain if there are any nonverbal cues along with what the patient is telling them. Lumps and bumps can be visualized and rashes. It is easier to visualize if a patient appears particularly distressed and it can be helpful to check in with patients who have difficulty travelling.

Advantages of Virtual Care

Advantages of Virtual Care can include:

  1. Ease of access to patients and to doctors. 
  2. Ability to fit consultations in away from the workplace, thereby increasing productivity. 
  3. Avoiding the expense of travel for both the patient and the doctor. 
  4. Reassurance for patients that consultations are easily accessible. 
  5. Avoidance of transmission of disease as the consultations are remote. 
  6. Ease of access for parents who no longer have to take all the children to the doctors surgery so that one of them can get examined.

Disadvantages of Virtual Care

Disadvantages of Virtual Care may include:

  1. A missed diagnosis by a doctor as they are unable to carry out a physical examination.
  2. Increased stress on Doctors as they may be dealing with patients across a wide geographical area leading to difficulty providing followup care or the ability to recheck the patient the following day in surgery. 
  3. Stress for patients who access a different doctor remotely each time, particularly in the case of more elderly patients. 
  4. A misconception from some Virtual Care providers that the Doctor’s remuneration should be less as they are providing their expertise from home.The counter argument being that the Doctor may actually be paying extra medical indemnity premiums because they are consulting remotely and cannot complete a fully comprehensive consultation by completing a physical examination of the patient.

Virtual care is here to stay

As far back as 2004, an article published in the Telemedicine Journal showed that out of 495 real time interactive telemedicine clinical consultations at the Telemedicine Centre of East Carolina University School of Medicine, patient satisfaction was reported at a level of 98.3%. With the rapid acceleration in virtual conferencing technologies in recent years, we can only assume that virtual healthcare is here to stay. McKinsey (2021) showed that growth in Telehealth usage has stabilized at 38X pre-covid levels.


So in conclusion Virtual Care is not a new phenomenon in medicine and is here to stay but it is important that we acknowledge its potential pitfalls and constantly strive to minimize negative patient outcomes.

Susan S. Gustke, David C. Balch, Vivian L. West, and Lance O. Rogers.Telemedicine Journal. May
2000.5-13. Published in Volume: 6 Issue 1: July 9, 2004

McKinsey Insights. 2021. Telehealth: A quarter-trilliondollar post-COVID-19 reality?

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