With newer technologies making it easier for doctors to attend to patients from anywhere, the concept of virtual hospitals is gradually taking root. The phenomenon of virtual hospitals, however, goes beyond just telemedicine. In a virtual hospital, there are specialist physicians in a call centre environment — equipped with a variety of screens and technological tools — guiding other healthcare providers working thousands of miles away. As a central freestanding facility staffed with healthcare professionals, a virtual care centre brings together a number of caregivers located anywhere in the world under one connected platform.
Rendering services ranging from medical check-ups to remote monitoring and assessments of patients currently in the hospital, the virtual hospital is a natural progression in the use of telemedicine technology. With its use of cloud medicine, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, it is all set to break ground in the world of healthcare. Since it provides quality care to the patients in the comfort of their localised settings, a virtual hospital can remove obstacles like distance, money, language and bridge the gap between patients and secure healthcare.
Telemedicine applications enable patients and doctors to communicate with each other transcending the barriers of geographical locations. With a wider outreach to cater to patients beyond boundaries, virtual hospitals have a crucial role in improving the administration of social insurance facilities for both inpatients and outpatients.
Virtual hospitals connect patients and consulting practitioners remotely via video and other technologies — in real-time. The concept revolves around rethinking traditional ways of delivering care. Under it, doctors can attend to patients without having them in the same room with them.
At TeleFederal Medical Center on Nellis Air Force Base, there’s a central hub with nurses and physicians that monitor patients with rooms wired with a video camera, video monitor, speakers and microphones so that they can teleconference in if necessary. Doctors and nurses stationed in the remote central hub, can observe medical data to assist physicians and nurses that are on-site with patients in real-time. They have access to all patient monitoring equipment data that are in the ICU. They can observe when a patient is starting to decline or not look so well, and sometimes they will see it before the bedside physicians because of alerts they get on that patient.
Electronic tools used in virtual hospitals
A virtual hospital employs software and technologies that all customers to monitor their health 24×7. The Internet of Things (IoT) connects physical and analog devices with actuators and sensors that can be used to store data and enable the transfer of information over a network without human intervention.
Thanks to high definition videos and two-way communication devices, doctors can seamlessly interact with the patient and the family members and provide consultation from anywhere. Such a system can also be streamlined in hospitals where doctors can attend to various patients with the assistance of bedside staff. It can be particularly effective in managing emergency units as well for observing infants. Using virtual mediums and communications, a physician can remotely keep an eye on babies and even relay critical instructions to local staff.
Traditional hospitals, in general, install a panic button near the bedside to alert hospital staff about patient needs. But thanks to fall detection devices, hospital staff are immediately alarmed about home emergency situations, leading to an automatic response to any contingency.
Patients wear electronic accessories without being connected to wires or sensors. Sensors are embedded in devices like bracelets, wristwatches and similar wearable accessories. These devices keep track of patient movements and activities and automatically trigger alarms to hospital staff in cases of medical emergencies.
Virtual hospital leverages the wide reach huge network of internet and mobile devices to provide its services to patients. Apart from having a mini-iPad and appropriate Bluetooth peripherals for their condition — for example, a blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter or scale — patients have regular video visits with their clinician. Platforms like video conferencing facilitate communication between a healthcare provider and patient.
The advent of virtual nurse
With the development of new digital technologies in health care, such as telehealth and remote monitoring tools, the nurse today has practically become virtual. She no longer needs to be all the time at the bedside, monitoring a patient’s vital signs or assisting physicians during rounds. In her virtual avatar, she can monitor 40 to 45 patients every day, across three to six facilities – a far shot from the five or six patients she could look after as a bedside nurse earlier. Her job is to provide care to patients and support to nurses whenever needed, especially at remotely located hospitals that lack specialized ICUs. As elaborated by Alice Larsen Sneed who worked as a critical care nurse at Banner Health, when smaller hospitals admit critical care patients, the virtual telehealth command centre allows the virtual nurse to monitor patients remotely. This way, local care teams can keep the patient in their community hospital, rather than having to transport them four or five hours away to access super-specialty care.
A virtual nurse’s work station has large monitors, with split screens connected with patients’ monitors. His computers are linked to eICU software as well as the patients’ electronic medical records, capturing detailed notes about the patients’ conditions. The cameras used have extremely high definition, allowing him to even read the numbers on an IV bag. With the eICU technology in place, it feels as though the virtual nurse is in the same room with the patient, even though he is monitoring from hundreds of miles away. He can focus on multiple patients, specifically stable patients, so nurses on-site can focus on a patient that isn’t doing as well.
Virtual nurses can feel confident that if they’re wheeling one patient down for a test and another patient needs help, a remote nurse can attend to them immediately or contact another nurse on the floor to provide the requisite care. By and large, they need to be tech-savvy as their role involves extensive computer usage and digital analytics.
The value proposition for virtual health hinges on the access of healthcare and the efficiency of the labour force. For instance, a Tele-ICU is a delivery system where it’s just more efficient to put one group of ICU docs in the centre and use an audio and visual computer network to offer a second set of eyes to intensive care units.
In a virtual setting, a clinician or social worker can also get a look at the patient’s living conditions including the contents of the refrigerator or pantry. It provides an opportunity to connect with patients in a meaningful way for long-term health benefits.
Even after almost two decades of the 21st century, there are places in the world where people do not have access to secure healthcare. In the wake of rising population and depleting resources, people are often stuck in places with no access to health supplies. A virtual care centre utilizes digital technology to create a cloud interface and removes multiple barriers to healthcare access. By integrating the most advanced technologies and the expertise of quality hospitals and doctors, virtual hospital offers better healthcare for people across different geographical locations.
One of the major benefits of a virtual hospital is that it can help connect patients in more secluded parts of the country with healthcare specialists. Some of them may suffer from limited mobility and others may not have sufficient funds to make long journeys. Thus, telemedicine turns out to be a cost-effective option for patients located in isolated or rural communities.
In general, patients with health issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, hypertension or coronary artery disease, have to struggle to manage their illness. But digital tools really make a difference. Remote patient monitoring via a virtual care centre minimises in-person visits of patients with chronic conditions for meeting with physicians and specialists for check-ups. Having virtual hospital results in a reduction in hospital visits, and cut in hospital stays. The savings are real and immediate as patients don’t have to drive hundreds of miles every week to visit their doctor.
Through this method, physicians can monitor a patient’s vital signs and other health concerns from a remote location. It does away with the need to find the time during the day to see the doctor, it means no more delays in the waiting room or time spent in traffic as individuals simply have to log on and off for their appointment, reducing overall time spent on care. Additionally, telemedicine can reduce the spread of infections in a clinical setting. It eliminates the risk of patient spreading germs to his primary care provider or other patients.
According to a recent report, the global market for telemedicine is expected to surpass US$ 103 billion by 2026. It is propelled by various factors such as increasing aging population, chronic diseases, rising per capita healthcare expenditure, and technological innovations that provide reach of healthcare in rural and remote areas.
A product of the digital revolution that the world is witnessing at the moment, virtual hospital is a revolutionary cloud care platform that utilises machine learning, artificial intelligence and cloud medicine to provide the best quality of care to the patients with the highest level of convenience.