Remote Medicine Concept

Telemedicine vs. Virtual Care: Defining the Difference

Finding the Right Term for Modern, Digital Healthcare

The healthcare industry is evolving at a rapid pace as professionals and facilities look for ways to increase their patients’ access to care while decreasing the overall cost of healthcare. Fortunately, digital technology is making it easier for healthcare professionals to communicate with their patients, breaking down the barriers that can impede a patient’s access to medical care.

With the help of live video, audio, and instant messaging, patients can now interface with healthcare providers from the comfort of their own home. This is especially beneficial for those who live in rural communities, who frequently would otherwise need to drive long distances to their local doctor’s office or to see a specialist.

With new terms like telemedicine and virtual care taking the industry by storm, healthcare professionals need to make sure they’re using the right language when educating patients on the benefits of these new digital tools. Learn more about the differences between these terms and how they relate to the digitization of healthcare.

Defining Telemedicine

The term telemedicine refers specifically to the treatment of various medical conditions without seeing the patient in person. Healthcare providers may use telehealth platforms like live video, audio, or instant messaging to address a patient’s concerns and diagnose their condition remotely. This may include giving medical advice, walking them through at-home exercises, or recommending them to a local provider or facility. Even more exciting is the emergence of telemedicine apps, which give patients access to care right from their phones or tablets.

Of course, treating certain conditions remotely can be challenging. Telemedicine is often used to treat common illnesses, manage chronic conditions, or provide specialist services. If a patient is dealing with an emergent or serious condition, the remote provider will advise them to seek in-person medical care.

Defining Virtual Care

Virtual care is a broad term that encompasses all the ways healthcare providers remotely interact with their patients. In addition to treating patients via telemedicine, providers may use live video, audio, and instant messaging to communicate with their patients remotely.

This may include checking in after an in-person visit, monitoring vitals after surgery, or responding to any questions about their diagnosis, condition or treatment plan. Simply put, the term virtual care is a way of talking about all the ways patients and doctors can use digital tools to communicate in real-time. While telemedicine refers to long-distance patient care, virtual care is a much broader term that refers to a variety of digital healthcare services.

Finding the Right Term for the Current Healthcare Landscape

As doctors and their patients try to make sense of and use these digital tools to their advantage, everyone should be aware of what these terms mean and how they relate to one another. It’s easy to see how some patients may find these terms and services confusing, especially if they don’t have a chance to meet with their healthcare provider in person. Healthcare providers should help their patients differentiate between these terms to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of any digital health tools being used.

When discussing the digitization of healthcare, it’s usually best to use the term virtual care instead of telemedicine. The latter has a more limited definition, while virtual care paints a more comprehensive picture of the modern healthcare landscape, which includes more than just telemedicine.