How virtual healthcare can influence patient health behaviors
15 min read
Virtual healthcare, also known as telehealth or telemedicine, refers to using digital care and communication technology to deliver healthcare services remotely. It enables healthcare providers to interact with patients, diagnose medical conditions, provide treatment, and offer medical advice without the need for an in-person visit each time.
Virtual healthcare promises an experience marked by convenience, accessibility, and efficiency. It's not just a technological shift; it's a shift in how people approach and engage with healthcare, and it holds the potential to empower both patients and providers in the process.
In this article, we will explore the various facets of virtual healthcare, from its terminology and behavioral change theories to techniques for implementation.
Virtual health impacts on patient behavior
The increasing availability and convenience of virtual consultations, simplified appointment scheduling, and abundant online health resources has sparked a fundamental shift in patient behavior. Instead of deferring or neglecting healthcare needs, patients are becoming more proactive, viewing healthcare as an integrated and manageable aspect of their lives. Virtual healthcare actively engages patients through digital health platforms, offering interactive apps, remote monitoring devices, and educational resources. These tools motivate patients to become active participants in managing their health on a day-to-day basis, contributing to a more health-conscious population.
Virtual health impacts on provider behavior
Digital health technologies like telemedicine and remote monitoring are transforming the behavior not only for patients, but for providers as well. Factors motivating this change include efficiency gains, overhead reductions, and the ability to reach a wider patient population.
Virtual healthcare also fosters collaborative care by improving communication and teamwork among healthcare professionals. Tools that streamline provider communications promote shared decision-making and a more comprehensive approach to patient care, which can benefit patients.
The digitization of health records and the use of data analysis tools in virtual healthcare impact provider behavior by encouraging evidence-based practices (based on a more comprehensive body of evidence) and personalized treatment plans, shifting the healthcare industry toward a more data-driven approach.
6 theories and models of behavior change
There are several theories and models of behavior change, each offering insights into why people behave the way they do and how their behavior can be modified or influenced. These theories and models provide frameworks for understanding and influencing behavior change across various contexts, including healthcare and public health interventions.
Health researchers and practitioners often draw from these theories to design effective behavior change interventions tailored to specific situations and populations.
Here are six prominent theories and models of behavior change that can be used to influence health-related actions:
Health Belief Model (HBM)
The Health Belief Model posits that people's behaviors are influenced by their perceptions of the health threat and the benefits and barriers associated with taking action.
It includes six key factors:
- Perceived susceptibility: Belief in the likelihood of getting a health condition.
- Perceived severity: Belief in the seriousness of the health condition.
- Perceived benefits: Belief in the effectiveness of taking action.
- Perceived barriers: Belief in the obstacles to taking action.
- Cue to action: Triggers that prompt action.
- Self-efficacy: Confidence in one's ability to take action.
Social Cognitive Theory
This theory, also known as Social Learning Theory, emphasizes the role of observational learning and social interactions in shaping behavior.
Key concepts include:
- Behavioral capability: Having the understanding and skills to perform a behavior.
- Observational learning: Learning by watching others.
- Reinforcements: Factors that influence behavior.
- Expectations: Anticipated outcomes of behavior.
- Self-efficacy: Belief that one’s power and will are strong enough to see a behavior change through.
Social Norms Theory
This theory focuses on how people's perceptions of what is normal or typical behavior in their social group influence their own behavior. It aims to correct misperceptions about social norms to promote healthier choices.
Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB)
The TPB expands on the Health Belief Model by including three key determinants of behavior:
- Attitude toward behavior: The person's positive or negative evaluation of the behavior.
- Subjective norms: The perceived social pressure to perform or not perform the behavior.
- Perceived behavioral control: The perception of one's ability to perform the behavior.
Self-Determination Theory (SDT)
SDT focuses on understanding the motivations behind behavior change. It categorizes motivation into various types, ranging from extrinsic (externally driven) to intrinsic (internally driven) motivation. SDT emphasizes three fundamental psychological needs:
- Autonomy: Feeling in control of one's actions.
- Competence: Believing in one's ability to succeed.
- Relatedness: Having a sense of connection with others.
Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change Model)
This model describes behavior change as a process that occurs in stages. It includes the following stages:
- Precontemplation: The person is not yet considering change.
- Contemplation: The person is considering change but hasn't yet taken action.
- Preparation: The person is ready to take action.
- Action: The person is actively making changes.
- Maintenance: The person has sustained the behavior change.
- Termination: The person has fully integrated the change into their life, and there's no risk of relapse.
Virtual healthcare techniques in practice
Virtual healthcare techniques, which utilize technology to deliver medical services from a distance, have a profound impact on both patient and provider behavior.
Here are some of the key techniques used in virtual healthcare:
Telemedicine involves the use of video conferencing software, audio-only calls, or chat platforms to connect patients with healthcare providers. It allows for real-time consultations, diagnosis, and treatment without the need for in-person visits.
Remote monitoring utilizes wearable devices and sensors to track patients' vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. This data is transmitted to healthcare providers, enabling them to monitor patients' health conditions from a distance.
Mobile health (mHealth) apps
Mobile health applications are smartphone apps that offer a wide range of healthcare services. Patients can use these apps to schedule appointments, access medical records, receive medication reminders, and even perform virtual check-ins with healthcare professionals.
Store-and-forward health tech solutions collect medical information, such as images, videos, or test results, and forward it to specialists or other healthcare providers for evaluation. This asynchronous communication allows experts to review cases at their convenience, while also enabling the more continuous collection of information, since data can often be captured at times when a device is not connected to the internet.
E-consultations enable primary care providers to seek advice and guidance from specialists through electronic communication. This can help in making more informed decisions about a patient's care plan.
Chatbots and virtual assistants
Chatbots and virtual assistants are AI-driven tools that can provide patients with information, answer health-related questions, and assist with appointment scheduling. They can offer immediate responses and support.
Remote surgery and procedures
In some cases, virtual healthcare extends to remote surgeries and medical procedures using robotic systems controlled by surgeons from an off-site location. This technique is highly specialized and requires advanced technology.
Health portals are online platforms where patients can access their medical records, lab results, and communicate with healthcare providers securely. These portals enhance patient engagement and facilitate better care coordination.
Virtual healthcare often includes electronic prescribing of medications. Healthcare providers can send prescriptions directly to pharmacies electronically, reducing the need for physical prescriptions.
Telepharmacy services allow pharmacists to remotely review and manage medication orders, conduct medication therapy management, and provide counseling to patients. This ensures safe and efficient medication management.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI-powered algorithms can assist in diagnosis by analyzing medical data and suggesting potential treatment options. AI can also help in predicting disease outbreaks and improving patient outcomes.
Secure communication tools
Virtual healthcare relies on secure communication tools to ensure patient data privacy. Encrypted messaging and video conferencing protect sensitive information.
The above technologies collectively enhance the convenience, accessibility, and effectiveness of healthcare delivery, making it easier for patients to access medical services and for healthcare providers to deliver care, especially in remote or underserved areas.
Key considerations in virtual healthcare app development
Developing virtual healthcare apps requires careful consideration of various key factors to ensure their effectiveness, safety, and compliance with healthcare regulations.
Here are some key considerations when designing and developing virtual healthcare apps:
Healthcare apps must adhere to regulatory standards, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States. Compliance ensures the security and privacy of patient data, including electronic health records (EHRs).
It is important to stay abreast of changes in healthcare regulations and standards, and to regularly update the app to remain compliant with evolving requirements.
Protecting patient data is of paramount importance in digital health. Implement robust encryption techniques and secure data storage practices to safeguard sensitive information. Conduct regular security audits and vulnerability assessments.
Implement strong user authentication methods to verify the identity of both healthcare providers and patients. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security.
Ensure seamless integration with EHR systems, allowing healthcare providers to access and update patient records during virtual consultations. This integration improves care coordination and maintains accurate patient information.
Strive for interoperability with other healthcare systems and applications, taking cues from interoperability standards like SMART on FHIR. Compatibility with existing healthcare infrastructure enhances an app's utility and adoption.
Design an intuitive and user-friendly interface to facilitate easy navigation for both patients and healthcare providers, following user experience (UX) best practices for efficient interaction.
Ensure that the app is accessible to individuals with disabilities. Adhering to accessibility standards, such as WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), is essential for ensuring an optimal experience for all your users.
Build the app to accommodate growth and increased usage. Scalability ensures that the app can handle a growing user base and additional features without compromising performance.
Support real-time communication features, including secure video conferencing, messaging, and file sharing. Low-latency and high-quality audio and video are crucial for effective virtual consultations.
Provide offline access to essential features and patient data when internet connectivity is unreliable. This ensures continuity of care in remote or underserved areas.
Stay updated on telehealth regulations and reimbursement policies specific to your region or country. Compliance with these regulations is essential for enabling billing and reimbursement for your users.
Implement a robust consent management system for patients to provide informed consent for virtual consultations and data sharing. Ensure that patients understand how their data will be used.
Prescription and medication management
If applicable, include e-prescribing capabilities for healthcare providers to electronically send prescriptions to pharmacies. Offer medication management features for patients to track and adhere to medication schedules.
Support remote patient monitoring (RPM) with the ability to collect and transmit health data from wearable devices and sensors. Include alerts for healthcare providers when critical thresholds are exceeded.
Have clear protocols in place for handling emergency situations during virtual consultations. Ensure that healthcare providers can escalate care when necessary.
Incorporate data analytics capabilities to provide healthcare providers with insights into patient health trends and outcomes. Analytics can aid in population health management and proactive care.
Feedback and support
Offer channels for users to provide feedback and seek technical support. Promptly address user concerns and issues to maintain trust in the app.
Conduct usability testing with healthcare providers and patients to gather feedback and make improvements. Regularly update the app based on user feedback and changing needs.
Provide training and resources for healthcare providers instructing them how to effectively use the app for virtual consultations. Ensure they are comfortable with its features and functions.
Advantages of virtual healthcare for patients
Virtual healthcare empowers patients by giving them more control over their healthcare journey, improving access to medical services, and enhancing the overall patient experience. These advantages contribute to better health outcomes and a more patient-centered approach to healthcare delivery.
Here are some of the benefits of virtual healthcare for patients:
Virtual healthcare transcends geographical barriers, allowing patients in remote or underserved areas to access medical expertise without the need for travel. This is particularly beneficial for individuals living in rural regions.
Patients can schedule virtual appointments at their convenience, reducing the need to take time off work, arrange transportation, or spend hours in a waiting room. Virtual visits fit into patients' busy schedules more easily.
Reduced travel and costs
Virtual healthcare often makes it possible to avoid the costs and time associated with traveling to a healthcare facility. Patients save on transportation expenses, parking fees, and potential childcare/loss of work time costs.
Increased access to specialists
Patients can seek second opinions from specialists located in different geographic areas without traveling. This expands the pool of available healthcare expertise, potentially improving the quality of care and treatment options.
Virtual appointments often have shorter wait times compared with in-person visits. Patients can receive timely care and consultations, which can be crucial in emergencies or for managing chronic conditions.
Continuity of care
If other factors (e.g. an insurance policy) allow, virtual care options can enable patients to maintain continuity of care, even if they relocate or travel frequently. Virtual healthcare may allow them to stay connected with their primary care physicians and specialists, and the very least, it supports the smooth and complete transfer of patient information from one provider to another.
Reduced exposure to infections
During a pandemic or disease outbreak, virtual healthcare minimizes the risk of exposure to infectious diseases by avoiding crowded waiting rooms and shared spaces.
Privacy and comfort
Patients can have consultations from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. This can be especially important for discussing sensitive medical issues or mental health concerns.
Patients with chronic conditions can benefit from remote monitoring devices that transmit data to healthcare providers. This allows for proactive intervention and early detection of health changes.
Digital healthcare apps often include features for medication management and reminders, helping patients adhere to treatment plans and avoid missing doses.
Access to medical records
Patients can access their electronic health records (EHRs) and test results online, promoting transparency and informed decision-making about their healthcare.
Virtual healthcare facilitates follow-up appointments and post-operative care. Patients can address questions or concerns without the need for additional in-person visits.
Virtual healthcare platforms often provide educational resources and information to help patients better understand their conditions, treatment options, and preventive measures.
Support for caregivers
Virtual healthcare can involve family members or caregivers in patient consultations, improving communication and coordination of care.
Health and wellness support
Patients can use wearables and mobile apps to track their health and fitness, promoting overall wellness and preventive care.
Customized care plans
Healthcare providers can create personalized care plans tailored to each patient's unique needs, helping to achieve better health outcomes.
Behavioral health services
Virtual healthcare offers access to mental health professionals, counselors, and therapists, making it easier for patients to seek help for mental health issues.
Expanded access to specialists
Patients can consult with specialists in various fields, including dermatology, psychiatry, cardiology, and more, often without lengthy referral processes.
In urgent situations, patients can have virtual consultations with healthcare providers to assess the severity of their condition and receive initial guidance.
Patients can request prescription refills through virtual healthcare platforms, making it easier to manage chronic medications.
Advantages of virtual healthcare for providers
Virtual healthcare empowers providers with the tools and flexibility to deliver high-quality care while optimizing their practice's operations. These advantages contribute to improved patient outcomes, enhanced provider satisfaction, and a more efficient healthcare system.
Here are some of the benefits of virtual healthcare for healthcare providers:
Virtual healthcare allows providers to extend their services beyond their physical location. They can reach patients in remote or underserved areas, increasing their patient base and potential revenue.
Virtual visits often have shorter appointment durations and reduced administrative tasks. This allows providers to see more patients in a day and allocate their time more efficiently.
Reduced overhead costs
Providers can save on overhead expenses associated with maintaining physical offices, such as rent, utilities, and office supplies. This can lead to cost savings and increased profitability.
Virtual healthcare offers flexibility in scheduling appointments, enabling providers to offer extended hours, weekend availability, or on-demand consultations to accommodate patients' and providers’ diverse schedules.
Enhanced care coordination
Virtual healthcare platforms often include features for sharing patient data, test results, and medical records among healthcare providers. This promotes better care coordination and collaboration among specialists.
Providers can charge for virtual consultations, creating an additional revenue stream for their practice. Many insurance companies also reimburse for telehealth services.
Patients are more likely to attend virtual appointments, leading to fewer missed appointments and improved patient compliance with treatment plans.
Access to telemedicine tools
Virtual healthcare platforms offer providers tools for remote monitoring, electronic prescribing, and secure communication with patients. These tools enhance the quality of care.
Providers can communicate with patients more easily through secure messaging, video calls, and virtual visits. This fosters better patient-provider communication and reduces communication delays.
Health record integration
Virtual healthcare platforms often integrate with electronic health records (EHRs), allowing providers to access patient information seamlessly and make informed decisions during virtual consultations.
Continuity of care
Providers can maintain continuity of care for patients who relocate or travel frequently. Virtual healthcare ensures that patients can stay connected with their preferred healthcare providers.
Access to specialists
Virtual healthcare enables primary care providers to consult with specialists remotely, ensuring patients receive expert opinions without referral delays.
Reduced exposure to infections
Virtual healthcare minimizes the risk of exposure to infectious diseases for both providers and patients, especially during pandemics or disease outbreaks.
Improved patient engagement
Virtual healthcare platforms often include patient engagement tools, such as educational resources and medication reminders, which can lead to more engaged and informed care recipients.
Behavioral health integration
Providers can use technology to more easily collaborate with mental health professionals, therapists, and counselors to offer comprehensive care that addresses both physical and mental health needs.
Reduced administrative burden
Automation of administrative tasks, such as appointment scheduling and billing, can reduce the administrative burden on healthcare providers, allowing them to focus more on patient care.
Quick access to patient data
Providers can access patient data and medical histories rapidly during virtual consultations, supporting diagnostic accuracy and treatment planning.
Enhanced patient satisfaction
Patients often appreciate the convenience and accessibility of virtual healthcare, contributing to increased patient satisfaction and loyalty.
Better chronic disease management
Providers can use remote monitoring devices to track patients' vital signs and health metrics, allowing for proactive management of chronic conditions.
Support for urgent care
Virtual healthcare can be used for urgent consultations, enabling providers to assess and address acute health concerns promptly.
Example of virtual healthcare in practice
Sarah, a 35-year-old working professional, has been experiencing persistent migraines and wants to consult a healthcare provider for advice and treatment. However, she has a busy work schedule, and traveling to a brick-and-mortar clinic is inconvenient for her.
So she turns to virtual healthcare solutions to facilitate her path to wellbeing:
Sarah visits her healthcare provider's website or uses a healthcare app to schedule a virtual appointment. She selects a convenient date and time for her telemedicine consultation.
Medical history and forms
Prior to the appointment, Sarah is asked to complete a digital intake form where she provides her medical history, current symptoms, and any medications she's taking.
Payment and insurance verification
She enters her payment information, and the virtual healthcare platform verifies her insurance coverage for the virtual consultation. Many insurance plans now cover telehealth services.
Sarah receives a confirmation email and a link to the virtual waiting room for her scheduled telemedicine appointment.
On the day of the appointment, Sarah logs into the virtual waiting room a few minutes before the scheduled time. She's greeted by her healthcare provider via a secure video call. During the consultation, they discuss her symptoms, medical history, and any concerns she may have.
Examination and diagnosis
Sarah describes her migraines, and her healthcare provider asks her to perform certain movements and manipulations to assess her condition. They discuss possible causes, treatments, and lifestyle changes that may help manage her migraines.
Prescription and treatment plan
The healthcare provider electronically sends a prescription to Sarah's preferred pharmacy. They also provide her with a treatment plan, including recommendations for medications, lifestyle modifications, and follow-up appointments.
Education and resources
Before ending the consultation, the provider shares educational resources and information about migraine management. Sarah can access these resources on the virtual healthcare platform.
Sarah and her provider schedule a follow-up virtual appointment to monitor her progress and adjust her treatment plan if needed.
As this example illustrates, virtual healthcare, through telemedicine consultations, can address patient needs for convenience, accessibility, and efficient healthcare delivery while maintaining the quality of care and patient-provider interaction.
Virtual healthcare is reshaping the healthcare landscape by transforming patient and provider behaviors. Patients are becoming more proactive, embracing virtual consultations for their convenience, while healthcare providers are adapting to digital health tools, streamlining processes, and fostering collaborative care.
This shift towards data-driven, patient-centric healthcare is enhancing patient outcomes and delivery efficiency.
To explore the potential of virtual healthcare for your healthcare practice or organization, consider partnering with Twenty Ideas, a leading design and development agency specializing in healthcare solutions.
Contact Twenty Ideas to embark on your journey towards enhancing patient care through virtual healthcare technologies.