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Virtual healthcare – making it work for you

Dr Luke Powles
Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK
09 June 2021

The Covid pandemic has made virtual healthcare the norm over the past year. While it may have been a necessity during lockdown, it’s likely that some elements at least are here to stay. Here I’ll take a closer look at virtual healthcare. I’ll talk about the benefits and potential challenges.

What is virtual healthcare?

Virtual healthcare is how health professionals interact with patients remotely (not face-to-face). This may be via online platforms or telephone. You might feel worried about getting as much out of a virtual healthcare appointment. But although you may not be seeing the doctor in person, it doesn’t mean the care you receive will be any lesser. And depending on the issue you’re seeking help for, it can be just as useful too.

What happens in a virtual appointment?

Virtual appointments take place in much the same way as regular face-to-face appointments. Your doctor or other health professional will introduce themselves and ask you questions as normal. Often a telephone call will be enough. But if you’re offered a video consultation, you may actually find it easier being able to see your doctor. Video calls can feel a little awkward at first, particularly if you’re not used to them. It can also be difficult if there are any technical issues. Your doctor will be well used to this and aiming to put you at ease. It’s also helpful if you can prepare ahead.

If there’s something you need to show your doctor, you may be able to do that using the screen camera. Your doctor may give you some guidance. For example, they may tell you how to adjust the lighting or hold your device or camera in a certain way. This can help to give a clearer picture, so do listen to what they suggest. They may also ask you to send in pictures of the problem, for example a rash, as this can be clearer than video.

Some virtual consultations may be more hands-on. There are certain physical examinations you may be able to do via video link. For instance, you may be able to take your own blood pressure, if you have a blood pressure machine at home. In a physiotherapy session, your physiotherapist may talk you through exercises to do. Never worry about these things beforehand. It’s the job of the health professional you’re consulting with to guide you through what to do.

Benefits of virtual healthcare

There are lots of benefits of virtual healthcare. The biggest has to be the convenience. It’s usually far easier and quicker having a virtual appointment. This is especially so if work, childcare or transport are issues.

Sometimes, it may offer more choice and flexibility too. You might be able to talk to a specialist who is based further afield. An example might be for psychotherapy services.

Some people also feel happier talking to a heath professional from the comfort of their own home. They may feel more open to discussing their concerns.

Challenges of virtual healthcare

Virtual appointments rely on you having a good Internet connection. You also need to be able to use the technology. You may struggle to get much out of the appointment if this is an issue. Do talk to your doctor or health professional if this is likely to be a problem. They may be able to offer guidance on setting it up, or offer alternative methods to communicate.

Virtual consultations may offer more flexibility, but there is the potential for disruptions and lack of privacy at home. Try to minimise distractions as much as possible, whether that’s children, pets or work calls. Focus on your appointment as you would in ‘real life’.

Finally, as much as virtual healthcare works well in many situations, sometimes it’s just not enough. This might be if you need a closer physical examination or you’re very unwell, for instance. Your doctor may arrange to see you in person. Or they may advise you to attend a healthcare setting where you can see someone. Virtual healthcare has a useful and important part to play in how health professionals interact with patients. But rest assured traditional face-to-face appointments still continue to be there when needed.

Dr Luke Powles
Dr Luke Powles
Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK

    • Giles C and Crowe S. Making remote consultations work for patients during covid-19: experience from the “other side” of the virtual clinic. BMJ Opinion. blogs.bmj.com, published 21 May 2020
    • Video consulting with your NHS. Frequently asked questions for patients. University of Oxford. www.bartshealth.nhs.uk, accessed 2 June 2021
    • Video consultation information for GPs. University of Oxford, April 2020. q.health.org.uk
    • Video consulting with your NHS. University of Oxford. q.health.org.uk, accessed 2 June 2021
    • Remote consultations during then COVID-19 pandemic - top tips from CSP members. Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, April 2020. www.csp.org.uk

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