Virtual Hospitals: Exploring the Shift to Online Healthcare

Gone are the days of waiting rooms and scheduling hassles. Virtual hospitals chart a new course in healthcare by combining technology with personalized healthcare. With the global virtual hospital and clinic market on an upward trajectory and projected to grow at a CAGR of 22.4% between 2022 and 2032 (USD 50.9 Billion), we are witnessing a paradigm shift in access to healthcare. 

Virtual patient care was once a futuristic concept, but it has quickly become an integral part of our reality, especially in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. With in-person doctor visits becoming a challenge for many, the adoption of virtual hospital technology has become a lifeline to ensure uninterrupted quality healthcare.

In this article, we will explore the impact of virtual hospitals on the healthcare ecosystem, offering insight into how they break down barriers, improve patient outcomes, and usher in a new era of innovation in digital health.

What Is Virtual Medicine?

Virtual medicine refers to the practice of delivering healthcare services and managing patient care through digital platforms, without the need for physical interaction between healthcare providers and patients. At the heart of virtual medicine lies the concept of the virtual hospital, a healthcare model that operates predominantly through digital platforms. 

Global Virtual Health Service Market
from USD 7.1 Billion in 2022 to USD 50.9 Billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 22.4%

Virtual hospitals do not exist in the physical sense that we are accustomed to; instead, they are digital networks that connect patients with healthcare professionals through virtual medical technology. These platforms use a combination of telehealth, telemedicine, and various health information technologies to offer a wide range of services, from consultations and diagnoses to treatment plans and monitoring.

How Does a Virtual Hospital Work?

The process begins when a patient seeks medical assistance through a digital platform, such as a website, app, or telehealth service. Once logged into the system of a virtual hospital, patients find themselves at the virtual doorstep of a variety of services. For instance, they can engage in virtual consultations, and connect with healthcare practitioners through video chats, telephone conversations, or text-based messaging systems.

A healthcare provider, in turn, can evaluate a patient’s symptoms, make a diagnosis, prescribe necessary medication, and lay out a treatment plan, all through these digital interactions. This means patients can receive comprehensive medical care without having to step out of their homes. 

How Does a Virtual Hospital Work? 
Comprehensive medical care without leaving home
Patient  > medical digital platform (website, app, or telehealth service)
Patient logs into virtual hospital system
Accesses and book services
Virtual consultation with healthcare practitioner (video chat, phone call, or messaging)
Practitioner makes diagnosis remotely
Provider prescribes medication > outlines treatment plan through digital interaction.

Consider, for example, a patient with diabetes who uses a virtual healthcare platform; they can have their blood sugar levels monitored continuously through remote patient monitoring technologies. Healthcare providers can then review these readings in real-time, thanks to wearable devices or home-based monitoring systems, and suggest timely adjustments to the patient’s treatment regimen.

Types of Virtual Care Offered

At present, 76 % of hospitals in the United States engage with patients and consult medical professionals remotely, using video and other technological means. Virtual care includes various types of services, each leveraging digital technology to provide healthcare remotely. Let’s explore the key types of virtual care offered to provide a clearer understanding of their impact and applications.

Telemedicine Appointments

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth use increased by 766%, indicating a significant shift toward virtual health care among working-age individuals covered by private insurance plans. Telemedicine software platforms support video consultations, secure messaging, and file sharing that enable doctors to diagnose, treat, and manage patients remotely. For example, platforms like Teladoc offer a range of services from urgent care to mental health consultations, making medical care accessible from anywhere.

Types of Virtual Care Offered
Telemedicine Appointments
Remote Patient Monitoring
E-emergency Services
Online Second Opinions
Remote Surgery Assist
Virtual Physical Therapy
Virtual Mental Health Services
Online Pharmacy Services

Remote Patient Monitoring

Remote patient monitoring became much more common among healthcare professionals, with usage increasing from 20% of providers in 2021 to 81% just two years later in 2023. It allows virtual healthcare teams to continuously track patients’ health data through wearable devices or home monitoring equipment. 

Remote Patient Monitoring Usage
20% of providers in 2021 vs 81% in 2023

An example involves a heart failure patient equipped with a wearable device. This device sends real-time data on heart rate and blood pressure to their cardiologist, which allows for timely interventions and adjustments to treatment plans. According to the CEO of Vivalin, “Clinicians can be conservative when it comes to new technologies and approaches, but seeing adoption among their peers can provide some level of reassurance and therefore encourage their own adoption.”

E-emergency Services

E-emergency services provide immediate consultation with emergency care specialists for urgent health concerns. A patient who experiences severe asthma symptoms, for example, could use an e-emergency service to get quick access to a pulmonologist. This specialist can assess their condition and advise on the next steps, potentially avoiding an unnecessary visit to the emergency room. Research from the Telemedicine and e-Health journal indicates that the average response time for e-emergency services is under 10 minutes, highlighting their efficiency.

Online Second Opinions

The precise number of patients who pursue additional medical viewpoints, referred to as second opinions (SOs), remains uncertain. The frequency of patients pursuing second opinions shows considerable variability across different patient demographics and geographic regions. A systematic review found the percentage of cancer patients who obtain a second opinion ranges from 7% to 36%, while another review uncovered an even broader range globally among cancer patients, spanning from 1% to 88% depending on the cancer type. 

up to 88% of patients who come to the medical center for a second opinion receive an altered or more precise diagnosis

Furthermore, internal research by the Mayo Clinic indicates that the vast majority (up to 88%) of patients who come to the medical center for a second opinion receive an altered or more precise diagnosis. This substantially changes their recommended treatment approach and potentially their health outcomes. 

Online second opinions offer patients the opportunity to seek additional expert evaluations regarding diagnoses or treatment plans. A patient diagnosed with a rare form of cancer might use this service to have their case reviewed by a specialist in another part of the country or world. This ensures they receive the most accurate diagnosis and the optimal treatment strategy.

the percentage of cancer patients who obtain a second opinion ranges from 1% to 88% depending on the cancer type

Remote Surgery Assist

Remote surgery assist involves the use of telecommunication technologies to provide real-time assistance and guidance during surgical procedures. Surgeons can consult with distant specialists during an operation, as seen in cases where a specialist in robotic surgery remotely guides a less experienced surgeon through a complex procedure.

Virtual Physical Therapy

Virtual physical therapy uses video conferencing and digital monitoring tools to guide patients through rehabilitation exercises at home. For instance, a patient recuperating from knee surgery could get tailored exercise advice and modifications from their physical therapist. This approach guarantees a proper recovery while minimizing the need for regular visits to the clinic.

On average, individuals engaging in patient-initiated virtual physical therapy (PIVPT) experience annual medical care savings ranging from $1,116 to $1,523, attributed primarily to the early start of therapy (35%) and the reduced costs associated with virtual sessions (33%). Moreover, PIVPT contributes to an average annual decrease of 6.6 hours in work absenteeism due to pain, enhancing productivity. The financial return on investment for PIVPT is notable, with a ratio of 2.0 considering only medical savings, and increasing to 2.2 when factoring in reduced work absenteeism, underscoring the economic and health benefits of this innovative therapy model.

Virtual Mental Health Services

Virtual mental health services provide psychological support and therapy through digital platforms. Someone struggling with anxiety could engage in regular video therapy sessions with a psychologist. This would allow them to receive the support they need from the privacy and comfort of their home.

In 2022, the market for these services was estimated at $1.63 billion, with forecasts predicting significant expansion. By 2028, the market is expected to surge to $2.88 billion, propelled by a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.09% throughout the forecast period. This growth trajectory underscores the increasing reliance on and the importance of virtual mental health services in addressing the complex psychological needs of the population.

Online Pharmacy Services

Online pharmacy services streamline the process of obtaining prescription medications. After a telemedicine appointment, a patient’s prescription can be sent directly to an online pharmacy, which then delivers the medication to the patient’s doorstep. This helps to simplify medication management for those with chronic conditions or mobility issues.

The global online pharmacy market is on an impressive growth trajectory, with revenue forecasts showing it will grow to approximately US$52.51 billion by 2024. This expected expansion reflects the growing preference and dependence on digital solutions in healthcare, highlighting the role of online pharmacies. 

To conclude, these services leverage digital technologies to bridge geographic distances, improve patient convenience, and provide timely care. As technology and healthcare continue to converge, these virtual care services will play a crucial role in shaping a future in which quality healthcare is accessible to everyone, regardless of location or mobility.

Key Components of Virtual Medical Technology

At the core of the virtual healthcare solution lie several critical components, each of which plays a crucial role in improving accessibility, efficiency, and quality of healthcare services. Here we will talk about some of the key elements of virtual medical technology and see how they assist in the smooth delivery of healthcare in the modern digital era.

Key Components of Virtual Medical Technology
Telemedicine Software Platforms
Patient Portals
Remote Patient Monitoring Devices
Wearable Sensors
Telepresence Robots
Artificial Intelligence Systems
Electronic Health Records (EHRs)Software
Cloud Computing Technology

Telemedicine Software Platforms

Telemedicine software platforms facilitate real-time communication between patients and healthcare providers. These platforms embody a complex combination of technology and medicine and provide a full range of healthcare services – from detailed diagnostics to complex treatment plans – all delivered at the touch of a button. For example, platforms like MDLive facilitate immediate virtual consultations across multiple specialties and integrate AI-powered symptom assessment tools, increasing the accuracy of pre-diagnosis before patients even speak to a healthcare professional. 

Patient Portals

Patient portals provide a secure online gateway for patients to access their medical records, communicate with their healthcare providers, and manage appointments. These portals empower patients, giving them control over their health journey. Through platforms like MyChart, patients can view test results, refill prescriptions, and receive educational materials, fostering a proactive approach to their health.

Remote Patient Monitoring Devices

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices are critical in tracking patients’ health data outside of traditional clinical settings. Devices such as blood pressure monitors, glucose meters, and oxygen saturation sensors transmit data to healthcare providers in real-time that deliver continuous care. An example is the use of RPM devices to manage chronic conditions like diabetes, where regular glucose monitoring is essential.

Wearable Sensors

Wearable sensors take RPM a step further by offering continuous monitoring of vital signs and physical activity. Devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches can monitor heart rate, sleep patterns, and activity levels to provide valuable data for both patients and physicians. This data can help in the early detection of potential health issues and in wellness program customization.

Telepresence Robots

Telepresence robots bring a physical presence to remote healthcare interactions that allow doctors to “visit” patients in their homes or remote clinics. These robots can navigate around patient spaces, facilitating more personal interaction and examination. An example includes robots used in care homes to enable family visits or specialist consultations without the risk of infection.

Artificial Intelligence

The worldwide healthcare sector’s investment in artificial intelligence is expected to soar to $45.2 billion by 2026, showcasing the substantial commitment and confidence in AI and ML technologies in virtual medical technology. AI encompasses a range of applications, from symptom-checking chatbots to machine-learning algorithms that analyze patient data for risk assessment. AI can enhance diagnostic accuracy, predict patient outcomes, and personalize treatment plans. Chatbots like Babylon Health use AI to provide initial consultation based on symptoms, directing patients to appropriate care.

Learn more about Healthcare AI Startups In the Cloud

Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

EHRs are digital versions of patients’ paper charts, offering a comprehensive view of a patient’s medical history. They enable the sharing of information among providers, guaranteeing that all parties involved in a patient’s care have access to consistent data. This approach enhances care coordination and reduces the likelihood of errors and repeated tests.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing provides the infrastructure to store and manage vast amounts of health data, providing scalable, flexible, and secure access to medical information and services. Cloud-based solutions like Google Cloud Healthcare API allow healthcare systems to integrate data and insights seamlessly across services.

The integration of a variety of virtual health technologies—from telemedicine to artificial intelligence and cloud computing—plays a key role in modernizing the healthcare system, making it more accessible, efficient, and personalized. This technology synergy illustrates a dynamic shift in medical practice as well as improves global access to healthcare as technology advances.

Next read: Navigating Cloud Computing in Healthcare: Challenges and Opportunities

Healthcare Applications Used 

A significant 77% of individuals aged between 18 and 29 have used their smartphones to research health conditions, and healthcare apps have been used by 84 million Americans, highlighting the strong inclination towards digital health resources among young people. 

Healthcare Applications open new doors to better connectivity, efficiency, and patient power, each built to bring patients and medical care closer together. Health apps turn our phones and computers into portals for a healthier lifestyle. Let’s take a closer look at the types of healthcare applications used in virtual hospitals:

Store and Forward Apps

‘Store and forward’ technology lets medical professionals capture and share patient information—images, videos, or records—with specialists who can review it later, drastically reducing the wait times for expert opinions. Imagine a doctor taking a clear picture of a mole and sending it to a skin specialist. This method, shown by apps like Figure 1, makes specialist reviews quick and efficient without the need for the patient and specialist to talk in real-time, offering a seamless integration of expertise across distances.

ePrescribing Apps

The digital world offers a solution to the old problem of prescription errors with ePrescribing apps that boost the safety and accuracy of medication dispensing. These apps let doctors send prescriptions straight to pharmacies electronically, cutting out handwritten mistakes. Apps like RxNT make getting prescriptions faster and clearer for patients which improves medication compliance and patient outcomes. 

Reflecting this technological advancement, the global e-prescribing systems market has witnessed significant growth. The market was valued at approximately $1.1 billion in 2022 and is projected to grow to nearly $1.9 billion by 2028, posting a strong annual growth rate of 9.61% from 2022 to 2028. This growth trajectory highlights the growing dependence and critical importance of e-prescribing technology in modern healthcare.

What Healthcare Applications Are Used?
Store and Forward Apps
ePrescribing Apps
Virtual Waiting Room Apps
Payment Portals
Digital Therapeutics Apps
Telehealth Kiosks
Videoconferencing Apps
IoT Integration
Wearable Integration

Virtual Waiting Room Apps

These apps let patients check in for their appointments online, get updates on waiting times, and avoid crowded waiting areas. Luma Health is one app that improves patient flow and reduces waiting at the clinic, important for keeping everyone healthy. This contributes to a more efficient healthcare delivery system.

Payment Portals

Payment Portal platforms simplify the process for patients to view, manage, and pay their healthcare bills, offering a user-friendly interface for financial transactions. Specifically, approximately two-thirds (67%) of people expressed a preference for electronic and digital payment methods, including the convenience of receiving e-statements and the ability to make payments online. 

This trend underscores the broader shift to digital solutions in healthcare financial management to meet demands for a more streamlined, transparent, and user-friendly payment process. Zirmed is an example of an app that makes billing simple, letting patients and doctors focus more on care than on paperwork. This guarantees financial transparency and trust between patients and healthcare providers.

Digital Therapeutics Apps

Digital Therapeutics (DTx) Apps use technology to help prevent, manage, or treat health issues and represent a huge advancement in personalized medicine. An app called BlueStar by Welldoc helps manage diabetes by giving personalized advice. It shows how apps are becoming part of treatment plans and empower patients with chronic conditions to lead healthier lives.

Clinical trials have highlighted the effectiveness of DTx in a variety of healthcare settings, with a notable finding being that patients using DTx apps for medication adherence report 80% adherence rates. This figure significantly exceeds the rate of adherence to traditional pharmacotherapy, which is 50%. This comparison highlights the effectiveness of DTx apps in improving patient engagement and treatment adherence as well as marks a paradigm shift in the way treatment is approached and delivered in the healthcare industry.

Telehealth Kiosks

Telehealth Kiosks are stand-alone stations with medical devices for checking health, plus videoconferencing for talking to doctors. This technology makes healthcare more accessible in public spaces. Imagine measuring your blood pressure at a kiosk in a mall and then chatting with a doctor right away, similar to what American Well offers. It provides a convenient alternative to traditional healthcare settings.

Videoconferencing Apps

Videoconferencing apps break down barriers to healthcare access and enable care continuity. VSee is one platform that removes the distance barrier, the app makes healthcare reachable for more people and facilitates a global network of healthcare professionals and patients.

IoT Integration

The Internet of Things (IoT) adds a layer to health monitoring, with devices that collect and send health data instantly, leading to more proactive and preventive healthcare strategies. From smart devices that track breathing and air quality to thermometers that watch for flu trends, IoT in healthcare apps gives useful insights and provides a data-driven approach to health and wellness.

Wearable Integration

Integrating wearables with platforms like Apple HealthKit and Google Fit enhances health monitoring. These platforms gather data from fitness bands, smartwatches, and other devices, offer a complete view of personal health, and effectively put health metrics at the fingertips of users and their healthcare providers.

The rise in the use of health apps among Americans, particularly among younger adults, illustrates the trend toward digital health solutions that enhance patient connectivity and autonomy. From store-and-forward to integration with wearables, these apps are turning smartphones into vital health management tools, making it easier to access healthcare and personalized health monitoring.

Examples Of Existing Virtual Hospitals

Healthcare at your fingertips? Yes, please! Virtual hospitals offer everything from AI-assisted diagnostics to real-time communication with doctors. We’ll take a closer look at examples like Teladoc Health and Babylon Health, which demonstrate how technology is making healthcare more convenient than ever.

Teladoc Health

Teladoc Health is a pioneer in telemedicine that provides access to medical professionals across a variety of specialties, including general medicine, mental health, and chronic condition management. One of its most interesting features is the breadth of services offered, from on-demand doctor visits to long-term care plans, all accessible via an app or website. Patients appreciate the convenience and the quality of care received, as reflected in positive reviews praising the ease of use and the responsiveness of healthcare providers.

Babylon Health

Babylon Health aims to make healthcare accessible and affordable with its AI-driven approach. It offers virtual consultations with doctors and healthcare professionals, along with an AI-powered symptom checker that can provide preliminary advice and guide patients to the appropriate care. Users often highlight the symptom checker as a standout feature, allowing for a quick assessment of their symptoms and peace of mind before speaking to a doctor. Reviews frequently praise the efficiency of the service and the quality of advice received.

Forward Health

Forward Health uses biometric monitoring, genetic testing, and real-time blood testing to offer a comprehensive health overview, focusing on preventive care. Members have access to a health team and a proprietary app, where they can track their health data and receive personalized health insights. The most interesting aspect of Forward Health is its focus on using technology to prevent disease rather than just treat it, a feature that members highly value in reviews.

Cleveland Clinic Express Care Online

Cleveland Clinic Express Care Online provides an extension of the renowned Cleveland Clinic’s services into the digital space. Patients can receive virtual care from the same medical professionals as they would in person, for a range of conditions from acute illnesses to specialty consultations. The platform is praised for its integration with Cleveland Clinic’s medical records, ensuring continuity of care and ease of access to health information. Users appreciate the ability to bypass long waiting times and the convenience of accessing top-notch medical advice without geographical constraints.

From AI-assisted diagnostics to seamless integration with traditional healthcare systems, platforms like Teladoc Health, Babylon Health, Forward Health, and Cleveland Clinic Express Care Online are leading the way to a future where quality healthcare is just a click away. This evolution reflects a broader trend toward digital solutions that prioritize the patient experience without compromising the quality of care.

Key Steps To Developing A Virtual Hospital

The process of developing a virtual hospital involves a meticulous approach, blending innovation with practicality to meet the unique needs of the healthcare sector. Here’s a detailed roadmap of how to develop a virtual hospital that includes the essential steps to bring this digital healthcare vision to life.

1. Requirement Analysis and Feature Identification

The first crucial step involves a deep dive into understanding the specific needs of your virtual hospital solution. The discovery stage is about pinpointing the core functionalities that will drive patient care and administrative efficiency. Key features to consider include telehealth capabilities, appointment scheduling, remote patient monitoring, and integration with wearable technology. This foundational step ensures the project aligns with both healthcare providers’ expectations and patients’ needs.

2. Scalable Architecture Design

With the features and requirements in hand, the next step is to design a scalable and secure architecture. This includes planning for the safe storage of patient data, real-time collaboration between patients and healthcare providers, and designing seamless integrations with existing hospital systems and health records. The architecture must support the anticipated growth and the addition of new functionalities over time.

3. User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) Design

Creating an intuitive and accessible UX/UI design for both patient and care team applications is a crucial step. The focus here is to make sure that the virtual hospital software is easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, and functional. Design elements should promote a seamless virtual health experience and make it easy for users to access the services they need, from booking appointments to online consultations with healthcare providers.

Key Steps To Developing A Virtual Hospital
Requirement Analysis and Feature Identification
Scalable Architecture Design
User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) Design
Development of Core Functionalities
Testing for Quality, Security, and Compliance
Deployment and Ongoing Support

4. Development of Core Functionalities

With the design ready, the development phase concentrates on the creation of the user and server sides of the virtual hospital. This step requires the construction of telehealth modules, patient monitoring systems, and appointment scheduling tools. It also demands the platform’s seamless integration with medical devices, such as portable ECG machines, X-ray machines, infusion pumps, and telemedicine kits, to deliver a complete healthcare service.

5. Testing for Quality, Security, and Compliance

Before deployment, rigorous testing of the virtual hospital solution is essential. This step aims to guarantee the platform’s quality, security, and adherence to healthcare regulations. Testers may employ automated processes to make the procedure more efficient, with a keen focus on data security and patient privacy safeguards, alongside the platform’s functionality and dependability.

6. Deployment and Ongoing Support

The final step is deploying the virtual hospital app, transitioning from development to real-world application. This phase includes providing comprehensive support and maintenance services to ensure the system’s continuous availability and reliability. Post-launch support is crucial to address any emerging issues quickly and efficiently.

In conclusion, virtual hospital development requires a strategic approach that prioritizes patient-centered design, security, and scalability to meet evolving healthcare delivery needs. This process highlights the importance of careful planning and ongoing support to effectively navigate the complexities of digital healthcare solutions.

Conclusion

As virtual hospitals continue to evolve, they will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in making healthcare more accessible, efficient, and personalized. The shift towards online healthcare, accelerated by the global pandemic, has opened new avenues for patient engagement and care as well as set a new standard for the integration of technology in health services. The future of healthcare is digital, and virtual hospitals are at the forefront of this transformation. No matter where you are, quality healthcare is just a click away.

At Empeek, we create bespoke healthcare solutions that address the unique challenges and requirements of the digital health sector. Our experience in developing comprehensive, user-friendly, and secure virtual hospital platforms makes us a trusted partner.  You can leverage our technical prowess and healthcare insight to build a virtual hospital that exceeds the expectations of patients and healthcare providers alike.

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Written by:
Alex Shpachuk Alex Shpachuk CEO
Alex Shpachuk is the owner and strategic partner of Empeek. His effective leadership and a visionary approach to the future of healthcare turned the company into a dynamic environment attracting the brightest minds with the common vision for product impact and service excellence. With over a decade of experience in software engineering and comprehensive knowledge of designing and deploying tailor-made solutions for healthcare providers, Alex channels his passion for software development and consulting into the written word.

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