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 patient’s access to care while reigning in the overall cost of healthcare. As difficult as this challenge can be, digital technology is making it easier for healthcare professionals to communicate with their patients, negating roadblocks in the healthcare system that can impede a patient’s access to medical care and professional advice. Instead of having to drive to their local doctor’s office or a specialist in another city, patients, especially those in rural areas, can interface with healthcare providers from the comfort of their own home using live video, audio, and instant messaging.

With new terms like telemedicine, virtual care, and telehealth 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 to the treatment of various conditions and the process of healing a patient without seeing them in person. Telemedicine is one aspect of virtual care, but it specifically refers to the medicinal aspect of healthcare. Doctors 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 out medical advice and instructions, walking them through at-home exercises and remedies that relieve their condition, or recommending them to a local hospital, specialist, or physician. What’s even more exciting is the emergence of telemedicine apps, which gives the patient access to care right from their phone.

Of course, treating certain conditions from a distance can prove challenging. That’s why telemedicine is usually reserved for simple treatment methods such as dealing with chronic pain, relieving symptoms, and talking to patients about their health concerns. If a patient is dealing with a serious condition, the doctor will advise them to seek out in-person medical care immediately instead of trying to treat them from a distance.

Defining Virtual Care

Virtual care is a broad term that encompasses all the ways healthcare providers interact with their patients without seeing them in person. In addition to treating patients using telemedicine, doctors will use live video, audio, and instant messaging to communicate with their patients in a variety of ways. This may include checking in with patients after an in-person visit, monitoring their vitals after surgery, or responding to patient questions. 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, regardless of whether the doctor is using this technology to treat a patient.

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. Doctors should help their patients differentiate between these terms as they change their approach to healthcare to make sure everyone is on the same page. 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.

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.



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