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Long before the global pandemic struck the planet, virtual hospitals featured some medical specialties for around two decades. Even though these models demonstrated cost savings, adoption had been slow due to reimbursement issues. But as the COVID-19 hit the world in early 2020, the need for on-site wards for acute patients has become critical. And other medical necessities have taken a back seat.
Here's when virtual hospitals came in handy. More and more healthcare organizations have adopted virtual hospital techs to enable remote care, increase their patients' and staff's safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, and reduce care costs. With many patients unable to get in-person visits, virtual hospital software has given the world a helping hand.
According to the newest report of McKinsey & Company on healthcare, the use of telemedicine, one of the virtual hospitals' key features, has been 38 times higher since February 2020 than it has ever been before. Telehealth offers a chance to adapt virtual and hybrid virtual/in-person care models, aiming to improve healthcare access, outcomes, and affordability.
What is a virtual hospital?
The virtual hospital model is a technology connecting patients and consulting practitioners remotely via video and other technologies in real-time. The idea beyond virtual hospital software is broader than just telemedicine. There are different specialists in a call center environment in a virtual hospital, equipped with various screens and technological tools guiding patients or other healthcare providers working thousands of miles away. The main goal of a virtual care center is to bring together a number of caregivers located anywhere in the world under one connected platform giving them access to patients needing help.
Benefits of Virtual Hospitals
Although there are some issues connected with virtual hospitals' security and reimbursement, the benefits of the development of the virtual hospital far outweigh the cons.
H3 Access to specialists
One of the significant advantages of telemedicine technology is that it helps connect patients with healthcare specialists no matter the distance and social conditions. Not only does it help to overcome obstacles such as lockdown measures and fully-stocked hospitals, but it also provides medical help to those in the areas deprived of professional service and people with limited mobility.
With the increase of hospital admissions due to the global pandemic, some hospital assets, such as beds, equipment, and even gloves, are often short in supply. Thus, a virtual hospital solution helps patients with no need for urgent hospitalization to get the required examination and treatment. And with telemedicine technology, all patients get access to healthcare while reducing expensive emergency room visits.
Doctor visits can be routine and time-consuming for patients with chronic conditions such as allergies, mild heart diseases, and mental health issues. Remote patient monitoring can become a significant virtual hospital benefit, dramatically reducing in-person visits, enabling physicians to monitor patients' vital signs and other health concerns from far away. It also helps make the doctor's control more thorough and make patients more responsible for their health.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, doctor's visits could be extremely time-consuming. And with social distancing rules becoming the new normal, visits can be even more hectic and difficult to attend. Thus, telemedicine is a comfortable solution, as people simply log on and off for their appointment, reducing the overall time spent on care. And medical personnel, in turn, can provide help to more people, distributing their workload and monitor more patients at the same time.
Protection against contagiousness
Another undeniable advantage of virtual hospital software is that it can reduce the spread of illness in the hospital setting. It is especially beneficial in pandemic times of highly contagious disease. A physician can diagnose flu-like and COVID symptoms via video conferencing, eliminating the patient's risk of spreading germs to his care provider or other hospital visitors.
While being monitored remotely, the patient is given more responsibility for the state of their health. It is especially seen with chronic diseases, as patients should control and record their condition. It also helps families with a better understanding of a relative's state.
H2 Virtual Hospitals Use Cases
Though the technology of virtual hospitals has been growing exponentially throughout the year, we are yet to see the most out of it. However, there are several successful cases of implementing a virtual hospital in different parts of the world.
Known as the world's first real-life example of a virtual hospital, the Virtual Care Center provides services to patients across several US states. The center has four main programs:
- vICU. The doctors and nurses monitor patients' vital signs remotely through susceptible two-way cameras, using IoT and care navigation technologies.
- vStroke. It's specially designed for patients who come to any emergency department with stroke symptoms. They can receive an immediate virtual assessment from the center's neurologist using a two-way camera and a patient's electronic health record.
- vHospitalists. It has been developed to support real-time assessment, orders for tests and therapies, management of admissions and transfers.
- vEngagement. The center's team monitors and engages chronic patients using biometric monitoring and interactive technologies. This system provides patients with a tablet, a blood pressure monitor, a pulse oximeter, and a weight scale.
With the rapid and unexpected onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Armidale Hospital emergency department in Australia was forced into building a virtual hospital for those infected with the coronavirus. Patients receive a tablet or install a mobile app on their smartphones and get needed devices that match their condition (pulse oximeter, blood pressure monitor, etc.). They regularly attend scheduled e-visits and are monitored remotely.
East Metropolitan Health Service (EMHS)
Long before the global pandemic, Philips developed and introduced its MeCare solution. Mobile Enabled Care allows chronically ill patients to track their daily health targets, manage symptoms, and use videoconferencing to connect with required specialists each day. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Philips has delivered virtual hospital services to East Metropolitan Health Service (EMHS). It helps improve patient care, provide help for more people, proactively detect the risk of patient deterioration, and reduce demand for hospital services.
The Clinical Command Centre
It's a cornerstone of EMHS's Health in A Virtual Environment (HIVE) program. The program is responsible for providing a hub-and-spoke model of care that uses machine learning and predictive analytics to reduce the length of stay and complications, avoidable transfers, and mortality. The Clinical Command Centre is based at Royal Perth Hospital in Australia. It monitors the inpatients in step-down units and higher acuity wards. The technology presents a virtual safety net of specialist support for over 100 beds over the next five years.
Barriers of virtual care quick adoption
However helpful and convenient the virtual hospital technology is, it cannot be seen as a one-size-fits-all service. The experts name a few challenges that can throw a monkey wrench into the fast deployment of a virtual hospital program.
Videoconferencing Cyber Security
One of the leading technologies of virtual hospital software development is telemedicine. As the world has switched real-life communication to videoconferencing, the gap in securing video calls and sharing data has come to attention. However, it may be overcome by implementing increased protection at the very start of the software development process.
Sensitive and personal data protection
Another serious concern lies in the sharing of data. It is especially true after several serious healthcare data breaches which happened in recent years. However, as with videoconferencing, implementing secured software at the stage of virtual hospital development may help defeat this threat.
Lack of physical examination
Another important thing that worries both patients and practitioners is the shortage of real-life examinations. Combining real-life visits and remote patients' monitoring during the treatment period can eliminate this problem.
High investment costs
The development of the virtual hospital is actually quite expensive. It means that the smaller facilities are unable to afford to create a virtual hospital on their site. But the technology provides an opportunity to allow larger medical centers to contribute their expertise and supervise care remotely at smaller community hospitals. Unfolding virtual care can help share expertise across hospital facilities as needed.
Read also: Cost of Telemedicine System
The virtual hospital is the next step in the use of telemedicine technology, providing different services – from medical check-ups to remote monitoring and assessments of at-home patients.
One of the notable examples of our work in healthtech is HIPAA Video — a video conferencing app for accessible healthcare and medical advice. It is used both by doctors and patients for remote health consultations. This telemedicine software is compliant with government regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and GDPR rules.
Another one of our significant medical software development cases is MedReal Time. It's a cutting-edge healthtech software consisting of web and mHealth booking and telecommunication platforms transforming the way of getting healthcare treatment. The app makes appointment booking and payments for consultations smooth and easy for patients, with the patients' data management effective for doctors at the same time.
The future is virtual
With the development of new digital technologies in health care, such as telehealth and remote monitoring tools, it was just a matter of time before hospitals started adapting the virtual care system. Though, the global pandemic has dramatically contributed to accelerating the adoption of the newest technologies.
While the world is overcoming the healthcare crisis, it becomes evident that virtual healthcare is here to stay. The apparent demand for virtual hospitals serving patients from any location grows due to the epidemiological situation and as a reaction to the demographic aging of the world's population and the increase in the number of chronic diseases. So, if you have been thinking of developing virtual hospital software, we urge you to stop hesitating and contact us, as we are here to help!
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