What is Virtual First Healthcare?

What is Virtual First Healthcare? - Wheel

What is Virtual First Healthcare?

Virtual first healthcare is a term people use to describe patients and clinicians consulting via technology such as smartphone apps, computers, or tablets. These digital interactions occur in real-time without the need for in-person interactions between the provider and patient.

Virtual visits are one component of telehealth, a broader term describing the remote provision of many types of care services via communication technology. These include administration, data collection, communication, and appointment scheduling.

Virtual first healthcare simply refers to a care model in which primary care is accessed first virtually, and then in-person care is made available as needed. This approach streamlines workflows for employees across the healthcare system spectrum and provides high-quality medical care and optimal patient experience in any care setting.

What does “virtual first” mean in healthcare?

The term “virtual first” (also known as “remote-first”) originates in the technology sector. It describes an organizational model that prioritizes employees working remotely, rather than from a centralized location, like a traditional office setting or healthcare facility.

Virtual first utilizes the functionality and interoperability of web-based communication technologies like videoconferencing, instant messaging apps, email, and remotely accessed software. With these tools, companies can recruit and employ the best talent from anywhere in the world to build and develop their teams with the goal of providing the best possible service to their users.

Health-specific virtual first applications

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies worldwide pivoted temporarily, if not permanently, to a virtual-first model in order to reduce infection and transmission rates.

Afterwards, many leading tech companies chose to remain virtual-first after seeing the benefits it yielded in productivity and employee and customer satisfaction.

In response to the public health crisis caused by the pandemic, widespread regulatory changes were introduced across various health services, particularly with regards to virtual primary care.

Remote COVID screenings reduced transmission rates for users and healthcare providers alike. This introduced a huge upsurge in the use of telehealth services, proving the feasibility of virtual-first healthcare models, even after the pandemic subsided.

While telehealth isn’t necessarily a new, it did struggle to find its footing prior to the pandemic due to issues such as:

  • concerns about quality of care

  • a shortage of suitable clinicians

  • regulatory restrictions around health insurance policy and coverage

  • lack of user awareness and branding issues

  • high costs

Since the pandemic, the use of telehealth services is now 38 times higher than it was at pre-pandemic levels. Also, patient satisfaction has achieved parity with in-person care, according to one study.

What is the difference between telehealth and virtual first healthcare?

There can be some confusion around how to use and differentiate between the various terms related to digital health solutions.

Let’s take a look at how these terms are most commonly used within the healthcare industry:


Telehealth is a broad, umbrella category incorporating all the terms outlined below. Telehealth includes all aspects of care delivery that occur remotely, including administration, preventative care, and curative care.


Telemedicine refers to the remote delivery of curative urgent care or primary care. This term is sometimes used synonymously with the following:

  • Virtual visits

  • Virtual healthcare

  • Virtual doctor visits

  • Video visits

Many healthcare providers also use the prefix “tele” when describing the remote provision of their particular branch of medicine. Terms you may hear that are essentially sub-types of telemedicine include:

  • Telepharmacy

  • Teleradiology

  • Telecardiology

  • Telepsychiatry

  • Teledermatology

Virtual-first healthcare

Virtual-first healthcare describes a hybrid medical care model that prioritizes virtual care but combines it with in-person care depending on which environment can deliver the best quality care and patient outcomes.

This approach assigns the best type of care provision for the situation. Examples of situations suited to treatment using telehealth software solutions include:

  • Behavioral health and mental health issues

  • Follow-up visits with a primary care physician

  • Refilling prescriptions

  • Monitoring the progress of chronic conditions

  • Examining easily visible areas, such as skin or eyes

  • Collecting data from wearable technologies, such as continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) or sleep trackers

  • Providing referrals and establishing partnership among care team members who are geographically remote

In-person care is preferred for the following:

  • Touch-based examinations like the breast, prostate, or glands

  • Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs

  • Blood tests

  • Collecting samples, such as urine, saliva, or stool

Patient intake through the digital front door

Many providers characterize their approach as facilitating patient intake through a digital front door. This strategy involves engaging the patient at each major touchpoint of the user journey via familiar technology, such as booking appointments with a smartphone.

As with many innovations reshaping the healthcare space, this strategy was originally modeled by consumer brands, such as Amazon and Facebook.

Synchronous and asynchronous solutions

You may have heard about synchronous and asynchronous solutions in the telehealth space, but let’s take a closer look at how they work.

Synchronous telehealth solutions occur in real-time, such as audio and video capabilities. This includes virtual consultations between doctors and patients.

Synchronicity is essential because it ensures that clinicians can provide responsive feedback and reassurance by addressing patient concerns and questions as they arise.

Asynchronous solutions operate on a store-and-deliver basis, collecting and forwarding data. Using this method, patients send information to a clinician, who can then review it at a later time.

Asynchronous solutions can save time spent doing on-demand video or audio consultations. This enables additional processing time for clinicians to deliver data-driven diagnoses, potentially improving diagnostic accuracy.

What are the benefits of virtual first healthcare?

For healthcare providers, the benefits of a virtual first approach include:

  • Reducing burnout for overworked or under-supported clinicians

  • Restoring work-life balance

  • Working remotely

  • Protecting licensure

  • Matching with patients across a wider area

  • Fair and competitive compensation

  • Improved patient outcomes

  • Reducing patient no-show rates

  • Using your time more effectively

For patients, benefits of virtual first healthcare include:

  • Cost effective, promoting parity of care across the socio-economic spectrum

  • Improved access to care, particularly for those in remote areas or with mobility issues

  • Shorter wait times to see a clinician

  • Improves safety and reduces infection transmission

  • Allows patients to speak to you from the comfort of their own homes


Virtual first is quickly becoming the standard model across multiple consumer sectors, and healthcare is no different.

While telemedicine has been a long time in the making, telehealth services have exploded in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic. This also resulted in improved quality of care and model profitability.

From monitoring and managing the progress of chronic diseases, to providing counseling and psychotherapy services, virtual first healthcare allows clinicians to be there for their patients when they really need them.

An ever-growing body of research points to improved outcomes for patients and providers alike, with a virtual first approach promoting lower hospital readmission rates and improved patient engagement.

To become part of the future of healthcare, get in touch with Wheel today to join our valued and highly skilled network of clinicians.

If you are a company interested in learning more about Wheel’s virtual care solutions, get in touch with us here.