Virtual Care: Fad or Here to Stay?

Jag Singh
4 min readNov 13, 2020

I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has seen a doc in the past few months has been offered the possibility of a virtual visit. Although it has the potential to serve as a strong and sufficient stand-in for an in-person visit, not everyone is ready for this change.

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In the already notorious era of COVID-19, this scathing viral infection has kept everyone indoors, enforced masks and social distancing, and spurred on the advent of virtual care, or what some refer to as telehealth. What had been in the works for over a decade, became a reality overnight. We were all forced to get on the virtual care bandwagon, through platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, any countless others. The chatter across Twitter and social media has been overwhelmingly positive. Most have reiterated the ease and convenience that telehealth has to offer. Folks are overjoyed at not having to drive, wait, and spend additional time to visit the hospital. It obviates a large proportion of unnecessary visits to the urgent care clinics, that can now be addressed within the comforts of our own homes.

In spite of this, however, it’s important to recognize that it is not a ‘one-size-fix-it-all’ strategy.

Stuff gets overlooked

As a practicing cardiologist, I have always been a strong proponent for telehealth. However, I have to profess that medical care is complicated and there are many conditions that require an in-person clinical exam and laboratory tests. Otherwise stuff gets missed.

Every now and again there are some unfortunate tales to recount. Quite recently a patient, who despite appearing stable over a video consultation, had to be admitted the very next day with severe heart failure. The swelling of the legs and the distension of neck veins (signs of heart failure) could not be easily appreciated over the video. This is not uncommon. This is where virtual care serves as an adjunct and not a replacement to the in-person care. It may not come as a surprise to most, but there will always be considerable value to the clinical examination.

Similarly, another patient recently developed critical limb ischemia and early gangrene of the right foot. This was despite frequent virtual visits, where the incipient and slow progression of reduced blood supply to the leg and foot…

Jag Singh

Physician, Scientist & Professor at Harvard. Passionate about social issues, leadership, digital health & medical innovations. @JagSinghMD