With telehealth and eHealth records now an everyday reality for Australians, healthcare planning is increasingly utilising virtual models of care, leading to a convergence of telecommunications, systems integration, and emerging technologies.
While often used interchangeably with the term telehealth, virtual care is increasingly being used to describe the ‘next step’ in digital health, of which telehealth is but one component. While telehealth is more often concerned with providing alternative communication channels for consultations, virtual care uses emerging technologies on connected networks to complement and even supplant traditional models of care.
An example of virtual care would be a ‘virtual hospital’ where Internet of Things devices are connected to units within major hospitals to help enable around-the-clock monitoring of patients in the home or remote areas. Other emerging technologies such as predictive analytics and virtual reality technologies are predicted to have applications in a virtual care setting.
To contend with the continuing impact of the pandemic, the Federal Government announced in April an additional $114 million in funding to extend access to MBS telehealth items until December 2021.
As it currently stands, telehealth is mainly administered through ‘low-tech’ solutions, usually through telephone consultations.
Although functional, the current standard is a long way from the promises offered by a widespread uptake of emerging technologies that enable 24/7 monitoring, in-home and preventative care. With some notable exceptions, eHealth has yet to upend traditional models of care completely, but recent budget commitments suggest that the needle is now shifting.