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The Rise of Virtual Healthcare


During the recent wave of natural disasters, some healthcare companies decided to put their virtual telecare systems to work. These virtual healthcare clinics successfully provided hurricane victims with immediate medical advice, prescription authorizations and virtual care that they couldn’t access otherwise. The hurricane relief efforts were so successful that many experts are now considering making their practices more tele-friendly. The latest advancements in virtual healthcare have made it possible for doctors and patients to meet remotely. Advocates for this new type of system point to the invaluable benefits of virtual healthcare, while opponents question the emerging technology’s effectiveness, reimbursement process and problematic aspects.

What is Telecare?

Telecare, telehealth and virtual healthcare all describe the trend towards moving traditional face-to-face doctor’s visits to online forums. Internet-based video conferencing, mobile data plans and the widespread use of smartphones makes virtual face-to-face healthcare available to a wide range of individuals including those trapped in disaster areas or unable to leave their homes.

Doctors can review the patient’s health records online, spend about fifteen minutes examining and diagnosing the issue through video chat and then follow-up by updating charts or prescribing medication. After the short meeting, doctors can directly e-mail patients a summary of the visit, a work or school note and any further instructions for a lab test or specialist visit.

Advantages of Virtual Healthcare

Virtual health care visits have proven to be very cost-effective. Both Froedtert Health and Aurora Health Care currently offer such online e-visits for under $50. While research is still ongoing, experts predict that virtual healthcare will significantly reduce the number of unnecessary emergency room and doctor’s office visits. Froedtert Health has successfully completed over 8,000 telecare visits, and they found that around 75 percent of these virtual patients can be completely diagnosed and treated virtually. This virtual system has the potential to greatly improve the overall health care system’s efficiency.

Another advantage of these online doctor’s visits is that it can provide health care services to a segment of the population that would otherwise lack any medical care. According to a frequently cited study conducted by Rand Corp., only about 12 percent of telehealth services actually replaced face-to-face doctor’s visits. The majority of clients using telehealth options were individuals who did not have a primary care physician and were new to using medical services. These services are very beneficial to those in rural areas who expend time and money traveling to city doctors. Rural areas suffer from a shortage of providers, and telehealth can help fight against this issue.


One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in the wide scale adoption of telemedicine is the low or varied reimbursement factor. Private physician offices and other organizations have little incentive to employ telehealth services due to both insurance complications and state restrictions. Recently, law makers have been pushing for lifting telehealth restrictions and increasing funding for such programs, so these laws could change the current reimbursement problem.

Another issue that physicians face when switching over to video conferencing is learning proper web etiquette. It’s much easier to convey empathy to patients face-to-face than it is to be compassionate over Facetime. Doctors who should be primarily concerned with their patient’s health may find themselves overwhelmed and unable to successfully connect with their patients on a personal level.

Proponents for telehealth recognize that not every condition is suitable for a virtual healthcare solution. Opponents argue that such a system is not effective, and it could result in individuals not going to the hospital when they should. The suitability of virtual healthcare is directly dependent on the patient’s condition and reason for the visit.

Several health care providers responded to the destructive hurricanes in Florida and Texas by offering free telehealth programs for residents trapped in disaster areas. The Orlando Sentinel reported that almost 3,000 individuals took advantage of these programs over a period of three days. More experts are coming forward arguing that the technology and public support for such programs are widespread, but regulatory and reimbursement issues continue to restrict the virtual health care system from reaching its potential. Last month, President Trump declared the nation’s opioid crisis a public health emergency and urged the nation to expand treatment in rural communities through telemedicine.

It’s clear that virtual healthcare will play a major part in the future healthcare system of the United States, but there are still some challenges that need to be addressed before the option becomes available nationwide.