What is virtual healthcare?

May 10, 2023
minutes read time

Virtual healthcare, sometimes referred to as telemedicine, are health-related services that happen in a remote or digital environment. Virtual healthcare often uses technology such as video calls, messaging, audio and mobile apps which allows patients to receive medical advice, diagnosis and treatment remotely.

Examples of virtual healthcare services

There are varying types of virtual healthcare services available, each utilising technology in a different way to deliver care to patients. Some examples of these include:

  • Virtual GPs - Speak to or video call a GP remotely and receive the same support you would for an in-person appointment.
  • Online consultations and prescriptions - Patients can speak to medical professionals through digital platforms, video calls, or on the phone for medical advice and prescriptions. GPs can issue prescriptions remotely, removing the need to see the patient in person.
  • Mental health support - Digital therapy and counselling services offer patients experiencing mental health issues a timely way to access the help and support they need, when they need it.
  • Virtual physical therapy - Patients in need of physical therapy treatment can use digital platforms to receive therapy sessions from any location.
  • Digital health coaching - Health coaches who support patients with advice on lifestyle changes can offer their services remotely through video or phone services.
  • Health learning apps - Applications designed to provide health and lifestyle tips that aim to improve patients’ health, or help them understand risks, treatments and more. They give patients instant access to relevant information whenever they need it.
  • Support lines - Nurses and other health professionals are available to call for medical support, and may refer you on to GPs or other services.
  • Remote monitoring - Patients remotely share their data with healthcare professionals via wearable devices, implants or by manually logging their data in health systems and apps. This allows medical staff to monitor aspects of their patient's health without needing to see them in person.

What are the benefits of virtual healthcare?

Virtual healthcare may offer many benefits to patients and medical providers for various reasons, such as the following:

  1. Access care from anywhere - Virtual healthcare offers a flexible way for anyone to access remote health services from any location, granted they have a connected device.
  2. Flexible treatment times - Virtual healthcare may offer patients more choice over when they receive treatment, consultations and other related services compared to in person appointments.
  3. Cost-effective - Accessing virtual services may be more cost-effective for health patients who would otherwise pay for private consultations and treatments in person.
  4. Fast access to healthcare - Patients may experience reduced waiting times for some services when accessing them virtually.
  5. Access a wide range of professionals - Virtual healthcare may increase the number of health professionals you have access to compared to in person appointments as you aren’t limited by the individuals working in physical locations.
  6. Save time - Accessing health services virtually may help you save time compared to in person appointments, such as the time it takes you to travel, waiting times and more.

Are there any drawbacks to virtual healthcare?

Despite the benefits, virtual healthcare may not be the right choice for everyone, and in-person healthcare may only partially be replaced due to the need for physical examinations and treatments. With this in mind, having access to a combination of virtual and in-person services may prove to be the most beneficial way to access the care you need. Here are some of the drawbacks of virtual healthcare to help explain:

  1. Device requirements - Virtual healthcare requires the patient and health facilitity to have the appropriate devices. Having a smartphone may not be enough if the camera doesn’t allow medical staff to inspect your health concerns visually. Many individuals may also not have the required device to begin with.
  2. Connectivity - Without an internet connection, virtual healthcare cannot happen, limiting the locations where patients can access care remotely.
  3. Technical knowledge - Patients with little technical knowledge may find it difficult to benefit from virtual healthcare services, as it requires them to set up and use devices in a way that allows medical staff to provide their services.
  4. In person medical care - Some medical services have to happen in person, and virtual services may never be able to replace them. This means there’s a limitation on how far in the treatment process a patient may be able to use virtual healthcare before needing to visit a medical facility.
  5. Patient and medical staff preferences - If a patient or healthcare team members prefer in-person appointments, this may limit the need and availability for virtual health services.
  6. Sharing personal information virtually - Individuals may not feel confident or safe sharing their private health information over the internet.

How can you access virtual healthcare?

You may have several options for accessing virtual healthcare services, each with its own benefits and considerations. We’ve summarised some of the key points below, but we’d be happy to discuss your options in more detail. If you’d like further support, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Paying for virtual healthcare privately

You may be able to purchase virtual healthcare services as and when you need them from providers across the UK, but this won’t include in person treatments and consultations. Here’s what to bear in mind:

  • You pay to access virtual healthcare as and when you need it.
  • You’ll pay when you access a service rather than committing to an ongoing contract.
  • It may become a costly option if you’re accessing a large number of virtual services.
  • If you require in-person treatment, you may have to purchase this separately at an additional cost.
  • You can choose between different providers each time you purchase treatment.
  • You may not be given access to additional benefits that providers offer their members.

Virtual health services on the NHS

Some virtual healthcare services may be available on the NHS, but they won’t always be available in your area, or there may be limitations. Consider the following:

  • There may only be a limited number of virtual health services available.
  • You may experience waiting times due to the demand for public services.
  • You may not automatically be offered virtual healthcare services from your GP, doctor, nurse or other health professionals.
  • Your GP may not offer virtual healthcare services.

Virtual healthcare through private health insurance

Private health insurance may offer you a policy that includes virtual and in person health services for a monthly price, giving you access to a broader range of private health services. Some of the key points include:

  • Your policy will cover in person treatments as well as virtual health services.
  • Virtual healthcare may be a free benefit given to you as a policyholder rather than incurring additional costs.
  • You can choose between providers when purchasing your policy, meaning that you can opt for the provider with virtual services that best align with your needs.
  • You may get access to additional members' benefits as part of your policy.
  • You’ll have access to all other benefits of health insurance.
Sick woman having a medical video consultation with a doctor - Equity Health overlay and logo

Which health insurance providers offer virtual healthcare?

Many UK health insurance providers offer virtual health services when you purchase a policy with them. Some services will be included as standard for any policyholder, while others may cost an additional premium or only be available on more comprehensive health insurance plans. Some examples of the types of virtual health services available through UK providers are as follows.

Vitality virtual health services

Vitality offers several virtual related services, such as:

  1. Video GP appointment
  2. Mental health support line
  3. Health rewards system
  4. Mindfulness app
  5. Online community support

Bupa virtual health services

Bupa’s virtual healthcare services include the following:

  1. 24/7 GP consultations via video or phone call
  2. Digital symptom checker service
  3. Virtual prescription service
  4. Talk directly to nurses for support and advice

AXA Health virtual health services

AXA Health members can access virtual services such as:

  1. Call or video a doctor
  2. Get help for mental health from qualified psychologists
  3. 24/7 personal support line

The Exeter virtual health services

The Exeter offer virtual health services through its HealthWise app, which includes:

  1. Remote GP appointments
  2. Second medical opinion service
  3. Physiotherapy assistance
  4. Mental health support
  5. Dietitian consultations
  6. Lifestyle and nutrition consultations

Aviva virtual health services

Aviva virtual health services, accessed through the Aviva Digital GP app, include the following:

  1. Video consultations with GPs
  2. Book appointments
  3. Request repeat prescriptions
  4. Get advice from medical consultants
  5. Speak to paediatric medical staff

WPA virtual health services

WPA offer virtual health options to their policyholders, such as:

  1. 24/7 remote GP helpline
  2. Virtual diagnosis and referral
  3. 24/7 health and wellbeing helpline
  4. 24/7 mental health helpline
  5. Online wellbeing and health information

Freedom virtual health services

Freedom provides several virtual health services, including:

  1. 24/7 GP telephone calls
  2. Live video consultations
  3. View consultation and medical notes online
  4. Virtual prescription service
  5. Message doctors with medical questions

Compare policies with virtual healthcare services

If you’re interested in accessing virtual healthcare through a health insurance policy, our independent brokers are available to help answer your questions and compare the options on your behalf. Provide us with some basic information, and we’ll be in touch to find out how we can help.

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Jasmine Albano
Written by
Jasmine Albano

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