Department of Health

Virtual care is the delivery of healthcare and related services where care is provided by using information and communications technologies rather than through face-to-face consultation. Virtual care can be used by healthcare providers for medical, nursing, allied health, patient education, pharmacy services and support workers. It is an overarching term encompassing telehealth (telephone and video-enabled), telemedicine, tele-education, teletherapy, telemonitoring and remote monitoring. Virtual care is a modality used to connect and provide care – it connects clinicians or any other person(s) responsible for providing care to patient(s) and carer(s).

The use of virtual care has been associated with supporting and providing tertiary consultations in ambulatory settings. Consumers and health care providers across Victoria have benefited from the increased flexibility and service choice made possible through virtual care.

Implementing virtual care requires a commitment to innovate, challenge current practice and explore all delivery possibilities using available technology as the tool. It is expected that, as a system, there will be a need to overcome barriers and enhance system enablers as services adapt to new ways of practice. To date, the adoption of virtual care has delivered many benefits to consumers, healthcare providers and organisations. Notably, these benefits include the capacity for virtual care to be cost-effective, improve clinical outcomes via consumers to access care near to real-time and a convenient alternative to the more traditional face-to-face healthcare, professional advice, and education.

Virtual care is part of a connected patient journey that may move between face-to-face care and virtual care in a manner that is clinically safe, and acceptable to both patient and provider. Clinical governance models apply equally regardless of environment and should not be any different to services provided within a bricks and mortar facility or through virtual medium.

These benefits will continue to grow as virtual care is further incorporated as part of routine healthcare service delivery in the future.

Benefits of Virtual Care

Virtual care offers many benefits to consumers, their families and carers, clinicians, healthcare providers, and the broader health system. Care delivered via virtual care modalities add value to an existing service, allow a service to be provided where it previously was not available or allow provision of services in a more efficient or effective manner.

Virtual care can assist in addressing some key barriers to equitable access of health care by providing an easily accessed and low-cost mode of service delivery. However, it is important to note that the benefits are not necessarily experienced equally or equitably by all patients.

The benefits include 1,2,3:

  • Patient-centered care: greater flexibility of choice for consumers about how and where they receive care and reduced inconvenience and stress through care received closer to home
  • Reduced travel and associated costs for the consumer
  • A safe and low-risk way for clinicians, service providers and consumers (including immunocompromised patients) to continue important health services when requiring physical distancing
  • Reduction in fail-to-attend would provide safety benefits for consumers and clinicians beyond the current pandemic – e.g., winter, flu outbreaks
  • Faster and more equitable access to services, especially for care that might not otherwise be available locally.
  • Care can be provided in socially or culturally safe and supported environments
  • Improved integration and quality of care, e.g., opportunities for multidisciplinary care and inclusion of carers across primary, community and acute care, particularly for people with chronic conditions
  • Less reliance on retrieval services to transfer and transport patients who would have otherwise been required to attend a face-to-face appointment
  • Greater scope for support and reduced professional isolation and capacity building for rural and remote clinicians
  • Where secure information sharing arrangement in place between health services, a ‘load balancing’ capability across the sector, where demand is uneven, clinicians in one health services can support other services under pressure

1Monaghesh E, Hajizadeh A. The role of telehealth during COVID-19 outbreak: a systematic review based on current evidence. BMC public health. 2020 Dec;20(1):1-9.

2 Fisher K, Davey AR, Magin P. Telehealth for Australian general practice: The present and the future. Aust J Gen Pract. 2022 Aug:626-9.

3 Snoswell CL, Taylor ML, Comans TA, Smith AC, Gray LC, Caffery LJ. Determining if telehealth can reduce health system costs: scoping review. Journal of medical Internet research. 2020 Oct 19;22(10):e17298.

Optimising Virtual Care services

Several important factors when considering virtual care include:

  • Clinical suitability of condition being treated, including requirements for monitoring and ‘hands on’ assessment.
  • Consumer appropriateness and acceptance - ability to effectively utilise and access treatment through modality.
  • Escalation pathways have been mapped and planned for in the event that the treatment plan requires escalation for alternate care.
  • Supporting equity of access and taking into consideration geography, CALD, disability, cultural safety and socio-economic factors.
  • Availability to required technology, infrastructure, and connectivity is validated prior to service delivery.
  • Privacy and security considerations including cyber-security, physical safety and privacy of the space the treatment is occurring in.
  • Opportunity for improved clinical outcomes through earlier access to care, monitoring and management.

Victorian context

Over the past five years, the Victorian Government has encouraged health services and providers to implement and upscale virtual care through project funding and provision of a state-wide video consulting platform.

Disruptions to usual practice brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including physical distancing requirements coupled with enabling funding changes (i.e., the Commonwealth introduction of temporary COVID-19 telehealth MBS item numbers for telehealth) have rapidly increased the use of virtual care.

Virtual care has been successfully adopted by metropolitan, regional and rural clinicians in a range of care settings, including hospitals, aged care, primary care, mental health and community-based care.

Longstanding service delivery models such as Better at Home and new models such as COVID- Positive Care Pathways and the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department have shown rapid adoption of virtual care as a modality for care delivery. These changes demonstrate capacity for a major system transformation in the way care can be delivered.

While the pandemic has served as an unexpected catalyst for change, a continued concerted effort across the health system is needed to embed these changes into routine practice.

The Operational Framework aligns with several key documents including:

Virtual Care Core Principles

The Core Principles (Appendix 2) outline a systematic and coordinated process for virtual care prioritisation, validation, extension, and safe operation.

  1. Clinical governance: A strong organisation and clinical governance framework must be in place to ensure safety and efficacy of care, and to identify when virtual care is appropriate.
  2. Safety and efficacy of virtual care is confirmed and safeguarded: The replacement of in-person care should not promote low value care (e.g., where not indicated by evidence or where duplicative) or worse health outcomes.
  3. Physiological assessment and monitoring: Where episodes of virtual care require remote monitoring, appropriate and validated tools are used, and patient and care orientation is embedded.
  4. Standardised and secure service: Health services should implement virtual care service using ICT platforms that conform with health care standards, guidelines, and frameworks.
  5. Complementary tool or value-add: Virtual care substitutes or expands the health care patients can receive in their preferred location of care.
  6. Patient first: Place the patient at the centre of care models and support the patient to achieve best possible health Virtual care models should consider the needs of lower socio-economic and vulnerable groups.
  7. Workforce capability: Ensure that virtual care augments the clinicians’ capacity and capability to provide high quality and safe care.
  8. Service catchment and interaction across the health system: It is important for health services to establish early how virtual care models are provided and the reach and scale of their service provision.

Roles and responsibilities

  • The Department provides direction for virtual care via Victoria’s digital health roadmap. The Roadmap, outlines the Virtual Care program and aims to improve the safety and efficiency of Victoria’s healthcare system. The policy and funding guidelines for health services provide direction to Victorian public health services on measurement and reporting of virtual care activity to the department.
  • Victorian public health services, community health services, mental health services, primary care providers, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs), and Primary Care networks, provide and/or support the community to access to virtual care.
  • Consumers, (and their families, and carers) of Victorian healthcare services, are key recipients of virtual care services provide advice and input, especially around experience.
  • Third party providers such as videoconferencing platforms, electronic medical record platforms, integration vendors and telecommunications providers, develop and deliver virtual care platform technology.

Additional key stakeholders involved in planning, implementing, support and monitoring the provision of virtual care in Victoria include:

  • The Federal Government through sustainable (MBS) and innovation and project
  • Regulators and those responsible for developing guidelines and standards such as:
    • Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)
    • Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA)
    • Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC)
    • Safer Care Victoria (SCV)

Reviewed 05 September 2023

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