The Difference Between Virtual Care vs. Telehealth

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote healthcare has skyrocketed as both a short and long-term necessity. Amidst a changing healthcare system, patients and providers alike often confuse terms referring to online healthcare practices. Two such terms are virtual care and telehealth.

While they share similar goals, virtual care and telehealth technologies represent distinct parts of a greater healthcare picture. In today’s healthcare climate, understanding how the two differ from each other is essential.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth refers to all technologies used to support long-distance health care. The term encompasses all forms of remote patient care, including remote patient monitoring and video conferencing. Online health-related education, virtual administrative meetings, and other virtual conferences also fall under the telehealth umbrella.

Technologies Used in Telehealth

As technology advances, telehealth adapts in real-time; telehealth professionals seek to harness the newest tech to reach the most optimal healthcare system available. In turn, it’s nearly impossible to list all of the technology used within telehealth’s sphere.

Amidst constant change, a few pieces of tech have stuck around as foundational elements within the telehealth approach.

Video Conferencing

From patients to administrators, video conferencing presents one of the most versatile tools in the telehealth arsenal. Video calls offer accessible clinical appointments for patients who can not otherwise get to a physical office, whether for health, financial, transportation, or other reasons.

For a medical director or other administrators, video calls offer an immediate opportunity to connect with healthcare professionals and health systems situated across the country or the globe. Even educators take advantage of video conferencing, mixing in-person and online instruction for more widely accessible and attainable learning.

Mobile Technology in Healthcare

Mobile phones offer extensive capabilities within telehealth. HIPAA-compliant messaging allows patients, administrators, and providers to seamlessly communicate pertinent information, streamlining medical processes. Patients can even track and upload test results and vitals at the touch of their phone screen, allowing their clinicians to dictate their treatment and decisions accordingly.

Mobile technology also bolsters access to video conferencing. Patients without the means to afford a laptop can check in directly from their phone, while providers can hop on in impromptu video calls from anywhere, anytime.

Remote Patient Monitoring

Remote patient monitoring bridges the gap between several pieces of technology for a flagship example of telehealth. RPM incorporates passive, interactive, and video-based components for a holistic approach to remote patient care, leveraging existing and customized devices.

What is Virtual Care?

Virtual care is the patient-care component of telehealth. Asynchronous and synchronous remote patient care, including remote patient monitoring, virtual visits, and any other remote form of communication between patient and provider. Virtual healthcare technology can take the form of video sessions, emails, text messages, or even lab results delivered online.

Types of Virtual Care

As noted above, virtual care technology extends across online platforms. These are just a few examples of virtual care leveraged through modern technology. Together, they help form a cohesive virtual care model, including support for virtual urgent care.

Virtual Visits

Virtual visits form the backbone of virtual care services. Applying video conferencing directly to patient care, virtual visits offer instant access to healthcare providers for everything from yearly checkups to chronic disease management.

Live Chat Messaging

Live chat messaging allows new and returning patients an intuitive way to determine what help they need. By messaging physicians in real-time, patients access professional advice on how to treat symptoms and find out whether they need a virtual or in-person visit.

Digital Self-Care Tools

Digital self-care tools leverage the same concept as live chat messaging when clinicians are less readily available. Designed per a patient’s needs, these tools collect data and guide patients based on automated professional medical advice. Once a physician is available or needed, they treat patients accordingly.

How Virtual Care and Telehealth are Different

While often used interchangeably, virtual care and telehealth are two entirely distinct terms. Comparing telehealth vs virtual care, each field differs in meaning, purpose, and delivery of service.

In Meaning

Virtual care is just one component of the holistic telehealth services moniker. While telehealth includes all forms of technology used to transfer digital information for remote health care, virtual care focuses exclusively on communication between healthcare providers and their patients.

In Purpose

Virtual care exists solely to improve remote communication and treatment between patient and provider. By doing so, virtual care offers healthcare access to patients unable to readily access in-person healthcare services. These technologies eliminate barriers to healthcare delivery and allow greater access to services for a wider variety of patients.

In contrast, the purpose of telehealth is to promote greater remote healthcare at large. Telehealth provides platforms to accelerate and optimize patient-provider interactions, while also offering intuitive solutions to educators and administrators. Combining these facets, telehealth seeks to holistically improve our healthcare systems.

In Delivery

Exceptional virtual care delivery relies on clear communication between patient and provider. Whether calling via a video session or messaging about any changes in condition, efficient transfer of information lies at the core of delivering virtual care service.

The delivery of telehealth extends beyond communication between patients and providers. Solutions such as improved wireless and broadband IP connection, development of wearable medical devices, and design of accessible provider websites are all part of telehealth delivery. Delivering effective telehealth leads to a greater ability to deliver virtual care.

Connected Health: Encompassing Virtual Care and Telehealth Technologies

Yet another great term to discuss the new age of digital healthcare is Connected Health. Connected Health refers to an even grander scale of digital health services, combining connected medical devices, the technology that powers it, and the strategy behind innovation. Telehealth, telemedicine, and virtual care all align under Connected Health.

Virtual care, for example, is part of the Connected Health equation. Healthcare providers provide virtual care via televisits, a patient portal, and providing resources online. Connected Health services design for devices, provide the logistics and support needed to run virtual care services and create programs individually catered for provider needs.

At Trapollo, we provide Connected Health solutions to leverage virtual care and telehealth into actionable practices for providers. For more information on our solutions, connect with us today.


Mr. Nester has focused in his career on business management, process improvement and services delivery. He has led project management, professional/engineering services and support services organizations providing solutions to the U.S. Federal Government and commercial Healthcare. He joined Trapollo in 2016 where he has served as the Chief Operating Officer leading the Trapollo services and operations teams as well as ensuring security and regulatory compliance.