Virtual Clinic 101: Find The Answers You Need For Your Practice
Do you know what the average waiting time is at the emergency department at Royal Victoria Hospital? 224 minutes. Do you know what the average waiting time in a virtual clinic is? No, we didn’t think so.
As the pressure builds on emergency departments, private insurance firms, and healthcare providers in general, it must be time for an alternative to emerge. And virtual clinics just might be that alternative.
As you’re reading this, we’re confident you already know about the problem to be solved. As such, we’ve made some assumptions about you as a reader:
- You work in the private insurance or healthcare industry.
- You recognise something must be done about the pressure healthcare providers face today.
- The possibility of making some activities virtual or online has cropped up in your imagination at least once.
- You want to offer a virtual consultation as a digital option for your patients.
Making the move to a virtual clinic sounds like a huge step - unless you’ve got all the information and support you need. This post is designed to help you with exactly that.
In this post, we’ll address the following queries:
- What is a virtual clinic?
- How does a virtual clinic work?
- Help with setting up a virtual clinic
- Examples of virtual clinic use cases
- How do you do a virtual consultation?
- Virtual clinic software options
What is a virtual clinic?
A virtual clinic is an online meeting room for a healthcare professional and patient to meet. Within a virtual clinic, you can assess initial reports of illnesses or injuries without an extended wait for an in-person appointment at a hospital or clinic.
A patient joins a doctor on a video call and can assess or report back on the consultation or recovery of an illness or injury.
A virtual clinic is suitable for any patient determined by a GP or consultant not to require an in-person visit to a hospital or clinic.
Virtual clinics can be used in many scenarios:
- Initial consultations
- Secondary care programmes
- Ongoing home management and quality improvement planning
- Group sessions like therapies and rehabilitation clinics
For injuries like fractures and breaks, virtual clinics are becoming more and more commonplace.
Often, the waiting time for a consultant is dramatically reduced when patients have access to a clinician who can diagnose and refer to the right place.
Mid Cheshire Hospitals now offer a virtual fracture clinic as a digital option for its patients. You can see its patient pathway diagram below.
This both reduces the wait time and speeds up the recovery process.
In previous attempts to facilitate virtual clinics, hospitals have been reliant on the phone. Following discharge from a hospital or a clinic, a typical scenario was that a consultant calls a patient and runs through the results of their X-Ray or referral.
What is virtual healthcare?
Virtual healthcare is the umbrella term for all non-physical elements of the healthcare and medical process.
Inclusive of virtual clinics, virtual consultations, and remote patient-monitoring, virtual healthcare is an all-encompassing term.
While convenient for both patient and doctor - less travel and more time saved in their days - the lack of face-to-face interaction has been a flaw in the adoption of virtual clinics. However, with the introduction of video communications into the virtual clinic setup, healthcare providers, like Berkshire NHS Trust and NHS Trusts and Care Providers, have hosted over 100,000 virtual consultations through Nasstar’s OneConsultation software alone.
What is the difference between telehealth and virtual visits?
As the medical world comes around to the pros and cons of online communication, there are lots of new words and phrases to come to terms with.
Telehealth is the delivery of any form of health service via a virtual or online service. The word is formed by combining tele and health.
Tele stands for teleconferencing. This is the process of talking face-to-face in real-time via a video link. In this case, health covers any aspects of healthcare.
A virtual visit is specifically the practice of using a “virtual” technology like teleconferencing to “visit” a patient. A patient can be seen by a healthcare professional via a video link. This removes the need for travel and reduces the risk of infection or further injury.
As with all areas of telemedicine, terms are used interchangeably between practitioners and outside influences. It’s best practice when adopting new terminology to develop your own internal guidelines so users understand what is meant by each term.
What is a virtual hospital appointment?
A virtual hospital appointment is a type of virtual visit. Patients can opt to schedule a virtual hospital appointment when offered by healthcare providers and private insurance firms.
When booking an appointment, a receptionist or consultant can offer the option to any patient deemed applicable for a virtual appointment. This is then conducted using video interview software.
Virtual hospital appointments are best positioned as a digital option to consume an existing service.
They don't need to be full-scale replacements for face-to-face appointments.
When a patient has an injury or needs to follow up on after an injury, the doctor will request a virtual clinic to be scheduled instead of a face-to-face appointment.
A mutual time is agreed between the doctor and patient to meet via a video link.
At the time of the appointment, the patient joins the virtual clinic using a simple registration page and they are entered into a secure virtual consultation room.
How does a virtual clinic work?
A virtual clinic can be set up for each service within your organisation. You can direct patients to specific web pages to join their consultation.
On the back end, clinicians get visibility of who is attending. Think of it as a virtual waiting room for each of the services you would like patients to attend.
To use a virtual clinic, follow these instructions:
- Choose the virtual clinic you would like to access.
- View all patients who have registered and are waiting for their consultation. You can identify each patient based on the questions they answer when they join.
You can join a specific consultation by clicking Enter Room. This will launch either Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business (the software used to join the video consultation).
When in the virtual clinic, the clinician discusses any items as they would in-person. The addition of video technology here allows the patient to demonstrate where pain occurs and prove sufficient flexibility, dexterity, or mobility following their injury.
Likewise, the illness symptoms include visible marks, rashes, or scars, the patient can demonstrate the current state so the clinician can prescribe the next course of treatment or management.
When the appointment concludes, virtual clinic patient information is stored as it would be during an in-person visit. A clinician can make notes and enter into any systems needed.
No real-time video is recorded unless specifically requested by the clinician and authorised by the patient. By default, recording is turned off.
This can be turned on ad-hoc when enabled by your administrator.
Help with setting up a virtual clinic
Setting up a virtual clinic sounds like a daunting process on the face of it. The reality is that it's easier than ever thanks to cloud technology.
Similar to the way that online banking started, the public is now expecting a method of consuming services virtually in a post-Covid-19 world.
Setting up your own virtual clinic requires the right software. Virtual consultation software and virtual waiting rooms can be created through various different means.
The best option, however, is to opt for a model already created. Using software that is already built out for use in this fashion is superior to starting from scratch and trying to adapt a video conferencing platform to the niche needs of a private insurance firm or healthcare provider.
Examples of virtual clinic use cases
Virtual clinics can be for a variety of illnesses and injuries. Typical patient scenarios range from minor illnesses to orthopaedic consultations.
Virtual outpatient clinics
When no further immediate hospital treatment is needed or when home management is prescribed, you can schedule the follow-up visit to be virtual.
While some minor illnesses are deemed serious enough to prescribe treatment or a course of medication, confirming the patient is healthy again rarely needs an in-person visit. In this case, you can use a virtual outpatient clinic to call, view, and confirm symptoms have cleared up.
Virtual outpatient clinics, also known as ambulatory care, provide an alternative to returning to the hospital or clinic as an outpatient.
Video outpatient appointments
With an outpatient appointment that you deem an at-hospital visit isn’t required, you can offer a video outpatient appointment. Most of the time, this will be more convenient for the patient as well as a time-saver for you.
When booking video outpatient appointments, the scheduler has access to both in-person and virtual appointments so can book in timeslots accordingly. On the back end, clinicians get visibility of who is attending. Think of it as a virtual waiting room for each of the services you would like patients to attend.
If the consultant running the virtual outpatient clinic specialises in one area, you might opt to make all follow-ups virtual.
In the case of checking in with a patient following the removal of a cast, specialists now opt for a video call via a virtual outpatient clinic. This is often referred to as a virtual fracture clinic.
What is a virtual fracture clinic?
Fracture clinics are one of the most common types of virtual clinics.
A virtual fracture clinic is an online alternative to a fracture clinic a patient could attend in-person. If there is no need for the patient to attend a hospital, virtual fracture clinics offer a more convenient suitable option for both patient and clinician.
When the injury is orthopaedic, early-stage appointments might need to remain in-person. But, in later stages, where the injury has almost healed, there is little an in-person appointment can offer over a video call.
In fact, the reverse is true. The same outcome is achieved in-person as is achieved in a virtual fracture clinic. But, you have added the time, resource, and expense of facilitating an at-hospital appointment for both you and your patient.
In fact, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals says it has reduced outpatient appointments by approximately 50% and saved the NHS over £250,000 a year.
A virtual fracture clinic provides an alternative option for in-person appointments. More often than not, this will be the preferred option for both parties.
Virtual fracture clinics should not be used when the injury needs emergent intervention, like open fractures, dislocations, and those causing neurovascular compromise.
You might find you can use virtual clinics for more departments in your practice. Adoption across the board is possible. But, do remain aware of when and when not to implement a virtual clinic.
How does a virtual fracture clinic work?
For orthopaedic injuries, like distal radius fractures, the consultation could be sped up by queuing in a virtual waiting room and having access to a consultant in any surgery or hospital.
Here, you discuss the injury, how it was caused, and any other symptoms. A referral is made in the usual manner.
Once referred, the in-person process continues as normal. However, rather than waiting in Accident and Emergency for hours to be seen by an available in-person consultant, you could be utilising the technology available.
The average wait time in December even jumps to over six hours during the Christmas period. You could dramatically reduce the average wait time by using resources from other areas who have more availability at this time.
Once the in-person treatment or surgery completes, the patient process follows the same as your current process.
Following discharge or recovery time, an orthopaedic consultant and/or physiotherapist will examine the referral and X-Rays before scheduling a virtual fracture clinic appointment.
Once a consultant has determined the best course of management for the fracture, they may prescribe one of the following scenarios:
- In-person consultation
- Home management and quality improvement plan
- Appointment in the plaster room
How do you do a virtual consultation?
An online consultation should be easy to join. OneConsultation, the virtual consultation software by Nasstar, is based on the traditional doctors' waiting room setup.
A patient can join a consultation using a simple registration page and they are entered into a secure virtual consultation room.
Here’s how to conduct an online consultation:
- Go to the website sent to you when your online consultation was booked
Place a test call to make sure everything works as you expect it toImage
Enter your name, date of birth and click Begin ConsultationImage
When in the online consultation, consult with your patient as you would in-person
Virtual clinic software options
You can use a virtual clinic app to start offering virtual consultations as an alternative for patients who already expect this - or would like the option but didn’t know this existed.
Rather than engineering a video conferencing system into a virtual clinic environment, take advantage of Nasstar's virtual consultation software, OneConsultation.
The goal of any virtual clinic must be to offer a solution just as simple - or simpler - than an in-person consultation.
While you could install a video platform like Microsoft Teams, which we only have great things to say about, your patients would have to install a new app and learn how to use this.
The best option for starting your virtual clinic is a purpose-built virtual clinic platform. To learn more about OneConsultation, built for this exact reason, click here.