Telemedicine vs. Virtual Care: What’s the Difference between These Two Key Terms?

Telemedicine vs. virtual care—these two terms are critical for the current technological revolution in healthcare. This article explains the difference.

With the advance of technology over the past decade, the healthcare industry is finally beginning to implement solutions that increase patients’ access to health professionals and lower the costs associated with care. What would have denied a patient the ability to see and speak to a doctor in the past—excessive distances and high fees have historically barred rural, low-income patients from routine and essential care—now are just a matter of scheduling.

As our industry adopts digital technologies, patients can now communicate via video, voice, and text with their providers, bringing the care of the doctor’s office to their front door. However, with these critical conveniences come some new terminology that can create confusion, among clinicians and patients alike.

Right now, many people are asking about how we should be using two key terms: telemedicine vs. virtual care. What do these keywords mean and what differentiates them? Let’s take a look.

What Is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is a term that we hear more and more frequently. Some health professionals may assume that it is interchangeable with related terms, such as virtual care. However, in the telemedicine vs. virtual care discussion, telemedicine refers specifically to the diagnosis and treatment of a patient using technologies like video and voice calling, as well as messaging. Today, doctors can talk to and treat their patients without being in the same room as them. Telemedicine may include consultations, guided exercises, and referrals to local practitioners.

While telemedicine can provide patients with essential access to doctors and specialists, it also has disadvantages. Unlike an in-person visit at a doctor’s office, a telemedicine appointment does not provide clinicians with all the information that they need. Some conditions require physical inspections in order to diagnose and treat them.

What Is Virtual Care?

If telemedicine is the specific application of medicine using voice, video, and text technologies, virtual care is a broader view of digital healthcare. For instance, a clinician may use telemedicine to diagnose a patient’s condition but virtual care to follow up on their progress after a week. Practitioners use the same technologies for both. The primary difference lies in the scope of each term.

In telemedicine, the scope of the term is diagnosis and treatment. In virtual care, the scope encompasses all forms of digital communication between clinician and patient. Telemedicine is a form of virtual care, but not vice versa.

Telemedicine vs. Virtual Care: Using the Right Term When Educating Patients

As healthcare professionals, it is part of our job to make sure that our patients are informed and that they understand us. Digital technology helps open access to care for many people who were prevented from it before—but the use of these technologies can become confusing, even when we are just talking about them with our patients.

In most instances, physicians should use the term virtual care with patients to prevent confusion, as it is more inclusive and encompasses the nuances of the modern healthcare environment.

Let’s collaborate to give your patients all the healthcare possibilities they deserve.

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