Time and energy management are two areas that are easy to lose control of as a parent. Factoring in ongoing healthcare is one facet that quickly becomes a stark reality for many. For many medical procedures, as soon as the appointment is made the next step is to work out how to block out several hours or more on the calendar. In some cases, such as the Cortisol Day Curve, it takes — you guessed it — the whole day. There’s no getting around a procedure like that — it is what it is. But motherhood is chockfull of appointments that, while important, are often no more than a simple consultation. Now that video conferencing has finally gone mainstream in the last couple of years, using it in this context suddenly seems like a no-brainer.
What Does Virtual Care Involve?
The main use case for virtual care or ‘telehealth’ is obviously going to be those more routine check-ups and consultations that in and of themselves mainly require a chat that might last a few minutes. But you might be surprised at just what can be achieved. For one thing, the power of talking shouldn’t be underestimated — when dealing with ante- and postnatal depression, for instance. Observing the case for telemedicine for the purposes of prenatal, intranatal and postnatal care in the context of the pandemic, evidence out of the highly-regarded Cleveland Clinic indicates its utility for obstetrics. And the best platforms today are secure and flexible, able to handle prescriptions, lab ordering with follow-up, and chat messaging outside of virtual visits.
The Advantage of Virtual Care
The most apparent benefit of simply picking up a device to reach a medical professional is, of course, convenience. Changes to New Zealand’s health infrastructure to emphasise primary care may not come fast enough for new and expecting mothers, and those living in remote places may still need to drive a long way to receive it. As we’ve seen in recent years, virtual solutions aren’t a time-saving panacea, but virtual care is one tool in the box of a busy parent.
In addition, the pandemic being a major reason for the growth of telemedicine in the last couple of years will surprise no one. And it remains the case that within the enormously complex immunology of pregnancy and post-pregnancy, there are obvious risks to being in a waiting room full of sick people, including Covid-19.
Are There Downsides to Virtual Care?
As already mentioned, there are procedures that virtual care isn’t going to replace. Any sort of invasive testing or examination naturally falls into this category. Beyond the limitations of the tech itself, there are issues of access. Citing evidence from around the world, the British Journal of Midwifery notes that this is an issue for those in poverty and rural-dwellers with worse connectivity, for instance, meaning often those who would most benefit are the ones who miss out. A study published in the British Medical Journal similarly found a reflection of pre-existing inequality in telehealth, as well as a compounding of pandemic isolation without face-to-face contact. The good news is that a proliferation of affordable devices, slowly improving internet connectivity and digital literacy has continued to the point that these are less of an issue than it used to be. And telehealth is best seen as an additive rather than displacing.
How Virtual Care Is Growing
Telehealth is slowly becoming a normal part of how health and care function. Alongside it, a wide array of medical practitioners have become available on the platforms including nurse practitioners, qualified doctors and mental health therapists. Companies are beginning to take the initiative to offer it to employees as well. Telehealth platform Wheel offers companies options for virtual care that help streamline access to care by offering all the features mentioned above — video calling, chat functionality, labs and prescriptions — making it easier for working parents to do more of the things they might otherwise have thought too challenging. Those mothers who don’t want to switch to part-time work have another reason not to feel they have to, and the businesses that value their retention benefit, too.
Virtual care isn’t a full replacement for in-person healthcare, but done right can be a complement that makes life that bit easier. And who could complain about that?