The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the number of people being more health-conscious around several European countries, including the UK. It is understandable then that the idea of virtual healthcare solutions, or telemedicine, has grown and grown in popularity since the start of 2020, with a survey from March 2020 finding that 58% of respondents would consider using digital health services if available, instead of visiting a doctor in person, in an effort to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
But, what is telemedicine, and how are virtual healthcare solutions meeting this demand? We’ve explored some of the most frequently asked questions concerning telemedicine, including how you can access these services through a private health insurance policy.
What is Telemedicine?
The concept of telemedicine, or Virtual Healthcare, is one that describes any kind of health related service, information or consultation that is delivered in a virtual capacity. Hence the portmanteau of the words telecommunication and medicine. As a healthcare service, telemedicine may be considered valuable to people due to the ease of access to medical services, where access may otherwise be delayed or unavailable. The aim of telehealth, telemedicine and virtual healthcare is to improve the accessibility of health related services, which in turn may lead to an improvement in the overall quality of care received.
Virtual Health Services
Telemedicine and virtual healthcare can be delivered in a wide variety of formats, including the following examples:
- Video & Telephone Conferencing & Consultations: Via systems such as video and telephone calls, health professionals can deliver virtual healthcare services such as appointments and consultations, without the patient and health worker having to meet in person.
- SMS Communications: Through instant messenger and texting services, patients can also gain easy and intuitive access to advice from professionals on any problems or concerns they have using a smart device or PC.
- Data Collection: Data collection and analysis from a patient’s home healthcare device are important virtual healthcare services for many patients. Doctors can access data sets and reports from devices such as activity/exercise rates and blood glucose levels. This can help healthcare professionals to deliver advice based on live-action reports from a remote location.
- Mobile Healthcare & Wellbeing Apps: There are a variety of mobile applications that offer guidance and support for healthcare, fitness and physical and mental wellbeing, such as the official NHS App, which provides easy access to medical services.
For a complete list of healthcare apps approved by the NHS, covering a wide variety of different topics, you can visit NHS App Library.
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Telemedicine & Virtual Health Insurance
When it comes to telemedicine and your private health insurance policy, many insurance providers offer access to a wide range of virtual healthcare services. This includes some of the many providers that we at Equity Health work with, such as:
With Aviva, your private health insurance can provide you with access to wellbeing services like the Aviva Digital GP app:
- The Aviva Digital GP app gives you access to five GP video consultations per member, per policy year.
- You also gain access to MyHealthCounts; an online health and wellbeing tool.
- A wide range of mental wellbeing courses and resources, including a 24 Hour Stress Counselling Helpline.
Aviva offers a variety of solutions in terms of virtual healthcare, but for more information on what else they offer as an insurance provider, you can read our Aviva Spotlight.
With a private health insurance package from AXA, you can gain access to several helpful virtual healthcare solutions, including:
- Access to Realise Health Plans provided by LiveSmart. Assess your nutrition, mental wellbeing and cognitive performance with intuitive online tools.
- Realise Health Plans also include telephone coaching calls provided by a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered professionals.
- An online health assessment, blood tests & virtual GP consultations from a Doctor@Hand.
AXA doesn’t just offer telemedicine solutions as part of their private health insurance policies. Additional information on what their insurance policies offer can be found in our AXA Spotlight article here.
Bupa is another health insurance provider we work with that can provide you with telemedicine and virtual healthcare solutions under their policies, including an online Digital GP service provided by Babylon:
- The Digital GP app features a COVID-19 Care Assistant, which can recognise potential symptoms and suggest possible next steps.
- The app can also connect you to a GP within 24 hours, and let you book online appointments with an Advanced Nurse Practitioner or a Prescribing Pharmacist.
- With the Digital GP app, you can get prescriptions delivered free to your door.
As well as the comprehensive Digital GP app, Bupa has a variety of additional healthcare solutions as part of their policies, which you can learn more about with our Bupa Spotlight article.
Vitality is the final health insurance provider we’ll discuss in this article, and another that offers virtual healthcare solutions as a part of their private health insurance cover, the most significant being the Vitality GP. With the Vitality GP you can:
- Easily book an online, video GP consultation, as well as view your video GP consultation history.
- Access to trusted physical & mental health information online.
- Access to a 24/7 telephone GP advice line, which can be accessed anywhere in or outside of the UK.
For a more complete look at what Vitality offers as a private health insurance provider, you can read our full Vitality Spotlight article.
What are the benefits of Telemedicine?
Telemedicine and the many virtual healthcare services it provides from these insurance providers carries with it many benefits for patients and the healthcare providers, including the following:
A Wide Scope of Support
Telemedicine and virtual healthcare services can cater to a wide array of patients with different needs. Telemedicine is not a concept that caters to only a few specific types of issues, it is a much more general service that nearly anyone may be able to benefit from. These services are commonly used to support patients with conditions and diseases such as:
- Chronic conditions obstructive pulmonary disease
- Chronic heart failure
- Support for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetics
- Resources and support for those battling different forms of cancer
- Advice and support for those suffering from mental health conditions
- Other long-term conditions including musculoskeletal disorders and rheumatic diseases
Remote Monitoring of Patients
With solutions such as online consultations, there are more opportunities for health workers to remotely monitor their patients. Between these appointments, your doctor can access added medical data from equipment such as blood glucose monitors. This can reveal more accurate trends and patterns in your medical data, leading to higher quality care through more knowledgeable clinical reasoning and more informed decision making.
More Accessible Healthcare
By connecting patients and doctors who are not in the same physical location, telemedicine services can provide patients with healthcare when they would otherwise be unable to access it. For example, during lockdown, patients can see a medical professional and get the help they need without leaving their homes, through solutions such as online consultations and appointments. This can be seen in some of the virtual GP apps offered by providers like Vitality and Bupa, which allow you to book GP appointments from the comfort of your own home.
Reduced Hospital Visits
Leading on from the previous point, virtual healthcare solutions such as online, over the phone or video appointments have the benefit of reducing the number of face-to-face appointments required for the patient. This has a variety of positive knock-on effects for the patient, including:
- It may be cheaper than physically visiting a GP, for those that need to travel long distances for their appointments. You can simply book a virtual GP appointment through one of our providers apps to save time and money.
- Being a more efficient solution for those that need to take time off work to attend an appointment, or work their appointments around their working schedule.
Telemedicine and virtual healthcare services may even help identify warning signs in patients such as deterioration, especially when combined with home monitoring systems. This may prompt faster reviews of medical care, improve the recommended treatment, and help health providers provide treatment in a more timely manner.
Virtual healthcare and telemedicine services have grown more and more influential in the past year, with the impact of national lockdowns limiting our face-to-face access to doctors and GPs. With many of our insurance providers, you can gain access to these solutions with a private health insurance policy. For more information on these telemedicine services and solutions, you can learn more about the insurance providers we work with here. Otherwise, you can contact us to discuss how a private health insurance policy can help access these types of health services.
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