It might seem counterintuitive during a pandemic, but many doctor's offices and even hospitals have been quieter than usual since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Fear of infection is forcing some people to avoid seeking care for complaints they might normally visit a doctor to address. Others, however, are simply taking advantage of a better way to address their health needs with virtual care services.
In an effort to keep more patients safely at home and allow for better social distancing, health care providers have embraced this contact-less form of care that was already gaining steam prior to COVID-19. It's important to note that the growth of virtual care options didn't start with the pandemic; even at the beginning of 2020, telehealth use was up 33 percent over the previous year, and we were proud to announce integrations with the likes of 98point6 and BetterHelp in recent years.
Patients are increasingly comfortable with digital options across nearly every aspect of life, so levels of resistance have consistently decreased. But there's no denying that COVID-19 pushed this transition forward at lightning speed.
So, what exactly are "telehealth" and "virtual care"?
With all of the new virtual solutions on offer, there is a muddy sea of terminology being thrown about. While the industry hasn't decided on precise definitions of each, we'll share a little insight into how we define these terms.
Let's start with "virtual care." This high-level concept encompasses all the ways patients, doctors and nurses remotely interact. This might include direct video or audio communication to describe symptoms, messaging platforms for follow-up questions or refill requests, digital file sharing for test results, virtual monitoring of vitals after a procedure, remote testing and more.
We think of the term "telehealth," on the other hand, as more specific to the treatment of a medical condition without a doctor seeing a patient in-person. This remote or long-distance care refers to the clinical portion of the interaction, often an appointment via video call. It falls under the umbrella of "virtual care," but it's only part of the story.
While there's clear cause to be grateful for virtual care options amid our current crisis, one thing is becoming increasingly apparent: digital health care is proving itself to be worth keeping up with after the pandemic subsides. In fact, a recent survey showed 83 percent of patients expect to use telemedicine even after the pandemic is over, and that's not surprising.
The benefits of providing virtual care programs for patients are plentiful.
First of all, these programs improve accessibility of care for more people, especially in rural parts of the country. They also increase efficiency and productivity for doctors, who can now serve more patients each week. The convenience factor is certainly not to be ignored; a telehealth appointment allows for options like texting with your doctor while working, something that is increasingly important for parents stuck at home with children in online schooling.
Of course, it's important to point out there is absolutely still a time and a place to opt for in-person care. Some things are tough to diagnose remotely and really require a physical exam and for serious, life-threatening situations, an Emergency Room is the best place to be. But for anyone who has an existing doctor-patient relationship involving a chronic condition, virtual check-ins can be extremely useful.
Over the last few years, FCH has prioritized telehealth services and other high-touch solutions focused on accessibility and convenience, and has nearly 500 providers in its provider network that can deliver care virtually. Along with 98point6's unique text-based primary care service, we've also improved behavioral health access in the workplace using our standalone Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The embedded service is offered through online counseling partner BetterHelp, connecting our EAP clients to the world's largest online behavioral health network.
Digitalization has already swept across nearly every industry and corner of the world - it only makes sense to let new technologies revolutionize and improve health care, too.