Applied Psychology

The Pros and Cons of Virtual Health Care and Therapy Sessions

Mar 10, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
The Pros and Cons of Virtual Health Care and Therapy Sessions

Virtual health care is not a new concept. Consulting doctors online has been quite a popular option in many first world countries. The internet has opened this service to people worldwide, provided they have an internet connection. The rise in psychological care online however, is a bit newer than general health care. Its gained momentum during the course of 2020, particularly due to the in-person risks of covid-19 and lockdown restrictions.

“Online Health Care gained momentum during 2020.”

What is Virtual Health Care?

Virtual health care, also known as online health care and telehealth, are when medically based appointments take place remotely. Instead, health care providers and patients use an online platform such as Zoom or Clickdoc videoconsulting for a session. These platforms have video or voice calling options, such that users can opt to be able to see each other or just chat while they interact remotely.

Another access point of virtual health care is the use of instant messaging and email-based script writing. Increasingly, applications are also used to send health information and updates to medical professionals. This enables health care providers to build up a more comprehensive and continuous picture of a patient’s health. Allowing for better titration of medication and treatment interventions, as well as surveillance, tracking and prevention of suspected conditions.

Why Consider the Option of Virtual Health Care?

The biggest advantage of a virtual appointment is continual access to health care. Within a covid-19 environment and housebound lockdowns this is increasingly important. While allowing patients access to their doctors and care managers, virtual health care also succeeds in decreasing the risk of transfer of covid-19 to other patients and health care professionals.

We have yet to better understand the impact of lockdown. However, what has become evident is the resulting need for increased psychological care. This is due to long periods of isolation, especially for those on their own, and the overall resulting decrease of contact with colleagues, friends and family. The uncertainty of the impact of covid-19 as well as a changing environment on every level, from grocery shopping, employment, meeting up with others and ability to exercise, has resulted in a rise in loneliness, depression and abuse to name a few challenges.

6 Advantages of Virtual Appointments

  1. More efficient use of time due to travel being eliminated as well as being able to continue with work when either party is running late.
  2. Patients have gained quicker access to some test results by using medical laboratory apps.
  3. Multiple health care professionals can participate in a single consultation which decreases cost and time requirements for all parties and enables better coordination between primary carers, doctors and specialists.
  4. Most doctors tend to charge a reduced fee for virtual consultations.
  5. 24 Hour access to health care allows for a decrease in emergency room visits.
  6. Continued access to personal primary health care providers when away from home.

“Virtual Health Care has time and cost saving benefits.”

The ability to virtually diagnose and treat a number of health care issues is surprising.

The Limitations of Virtual Health Care

While run-of-the mill and basic health care is possible remotely, diagnosing and care of more complex cases and specialist appointments aren’t always possible. For example, most gynaecology and antenatal appointments, conditions which need a hands-on examination, investigatory procedures such as X-rays, scopes, scans, laboratory and stress tests as well as setting of broken bones and injuries that need bandaging.

A big part of health care, especially for elderly and those who have lost loved ones, is the element of human contact. Additionally, body language can play a big part in patient diagnosis and trusting a health care professional, this is limited or can be non-existent in remote appointments.

6 Disadvantages and Challenges with Virtual Health Care

  1. Unreliable internet connections and limited bandwidth cause access problems.
  2. The service can be expensive for health care professionals to set up.
  3. Complicated payment options due to the inability of cash payments.
  4. If patients use different health care professionals as opposed to one practice or clinic, gaining access to medical history and records can become challenging or impossible.
  5. Some medical aids don’t cover virtual appointments.
  6. As this is essentially a different and newer facet to health care, both patients and health care professionals need to make adjustments to fully benefit from this avenue of health care and minimise misdiagnoses.

“Virtual Health Care requires access to the internet.”

Is a Virtual Therapist a Good Idea?

The success of psychology and counselling sessions rely on how comfortable and open a patient is. For some the increased access to remote appointments has assisted them, as they are more at ease within their home environment. Person-to-Person sessions are often limited in how often they can take place. This is mostly due to travel time requirements as well as the cost to a patient. However, person-to-person sessions allow for body language communication, which has the advantage of an augmented understanding of what’s been discussed and how its being received. Multiple studies have shown that online treatment can be as effective as person-to-person for e.g.: treatment of depression. Furthermore, online cognitive therapy has been shown to treat anxiety and panic disorders as well as in-person sessions.

Advantages of Remote Psychology Appointments

  1. Sessions can take place even when a patient is travelling
  2. Preferred therapists can be accessed by those who are limited by proximity or transport challenges
  3. There is no chance of “bumping” into people you know in a therapist’s waiting room
  4. If desired, some platforms allow for the use of nicknames adding an extra level to privacy
  5. Scheduling tends to be more convenient

“Virtual Health Care allows for continual care by the same therapist from any location.”

Challenges of Online Therapy

  1. Some conditions, such as suicide inclinations, should not be treated out-of-person
  2. There are online therapists who advertise themselves as licenced but aren’t
  3. If there is a crisis, it can be difficult for a therapist to intervene
  4. It can be more difficult to foster a patient-therapist bond within an online session
  5. Dropped calls, frozen video feeds and bad audio can cause frustration, distraction and hamper sessions

“Fostering a trust bond through remote interaction can be challenging.”

The Future of Virtual Health Care

Online health care is here to stay and has increased potential access to health care professionals for many people. There are both pros and cons of online healthcare. In the end, it is best to evaluate your individual circumstances and preferences and talk to your health care provider ahead of making a decision.

Interested in learning more about becoming a psychologist or counsellor? SACAP offers a range of courses, including part-time and full-time as well as distance learning options. For more information, enquire now.

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