Technology has become an indispensable part of our lives today. Internet and telecom industry have changed not only the way individuals interact with one other, but also the way they perceive things or gather information. This change has left a long-lasting impact on various sectors, including the health care. Now, the health care world has something new to offer to people because of these advancements – in the form of telehealth services.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth refers to a broad range of technologies and strategies that are used to deliver clinical healthcare to a person sitting at a distance. It is a collection of specific services that are used to enhance healthcare and education delivery services to those in need, who are unable to access help due to issues like distance.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines it as, “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. The technologies used include video conferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.”
A basic element of eHealth, telehealth depends solely on the access to telecommunications where virtual health care services are offered to those who are not in a condition to access healthcare centers. These services are extremely beneficial to those residing in remote areas and are unable to access traditional healthcare services.
Some of the important goals of telehealth are:
- Easy accessibility of health care to residents of rural and isolated communities
- Easy availability of services as per individual’s convenience, time, mobility and transportation
- Easy to connect with medical specialists
- Improved communication
- Better care offered to patients and those in need
- Enables self-management of health care
Difference between telehealth and telemedicine
Sometimes, people use telemedicine as a synonym of telehealth. But this is certainly not appropriate. Telehealth and telemedicine hold different meanings in the real-world scenario. While telehealth encompasses a wide range of technologies and services that help in improving the healthcare delivery system, telemedicine is a subset of telehealth that refers to clinical health care and non-clinical services as well.
Telemedicine makes use of electronic devices to communicate with the patient and provide them with the services without making them pay a personal visit to the doctor. This technology is widely used for follow-up visits to doctors, managing chronic conditions, medications and many other services that can be managed remotely via video conferencing.
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How does telehealth work?
The use of telehealth is majorly to enable an easy management of long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, epilepsy and heart-related issues. It enables an easy coordination between doctor and the patient when the two of them are at a distance and cannot meet physically.
Enabling individuals to take a better control over their health by keeping a track of signs like blood pressure, and transmitting the data via broadband or other technology, telehealth rings a bell in case of any existing health-related issues before it gets too severe.
Let us understand how telehealth works. The steps involved in it are:
Schedule an appointment
Using Telehealth technology enables patients to request and book an appointment with their doctors. Doing so is beneficial as the doctors usually have a few hours reserved for appointments and hence, confirm his/her availability within minutes of receiving the request.
Using Telehealth services to book an appointment makes it much easier for the patient to share the required information with their doctors. This can be a mix of records, previous reports of medical diagnosis, etc.
Connect for secure video call
On the day of the appointment, the doctor calls the patient as per the scheduled time and provides him/her with the required help. Doing so saves a lot of patient’s time by eliminating the travel time and waiting for his/her number to meet the doctor.
The patient’s condition is analyzed by the doctor on the basis of their discussion and the previous records shared by him/her.
Based on the complete diagnosis, the patient is prescribed certain medications or instructed to take certain precautions that can help him/her recover faster.
Payment and insurance filing
Once the medications are prescribed as per the diagnosis was done, the individual can make his/her payment through medical office and file for insurance reimbursement accordingly.
A follow-up appointment can also be fixed on the basis of the person’s conditions and requirements. However, the same is not mandatory for all the patients.
Types of telehealth
Telehealth services are available in three different types:
Remote patient monitoring: Also known as self-monitoring or self-testing, this type of telehealth is used to keep a track of patient’s health and clinical information who cannot be personally present for the same. This method is commonly used for treating and managing chronic illnesses like asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Store-and-forward: The oldest form of telehealth technology available, this method is used to transfer images and other information from one source to another. A common example of the same is sharing of x-ray images from a doctor to a radiologist for further analysis.
Real-time audio/video communication: This is one of the most commonly used forms of telehealth technology. The real-time audio/video communication allows the patient to connect with the remote doctor through a video-enabled device or telephone. It can also be used when both the doctor and the patient are at the same location but seek consultation from an expert sitting at a remote location.
Benefits of Telehealth
Using telehealth technology has many benefits. While it gives patients a leverage to avail healthcare services as per their convenience and requirements, telehealth benefits are tempting in a way to allure individuals to use this technology.
Some of the common benefits of this technology are:
- Easy access
- Better healthcare
- Reduced costs
- Fewer patients waiting in the queue
- Reduced chances of patient non-compliance
- Increased flexibility in working hours
- Availability of more services by doctors
- Low set up and overhead costs for doctors
- Increased revenue for doctors
- Saves time
- Connects easily to experts located at some far-off location
- Easy access to online doctor reviews
- Easy to consult multiple doctors
- Check online doctor views
- Get second opinions
- Hassle-free process to share reports and findings
Telehealth pros and cons
Using latest technologies in healthcare domain has its own pros and cons. While using these technologies might prove to be beneficial in a number of ways, there are also some disadvantages attached with it, such as lesser in-person consultation and tricky rules that are difficult to understand. Therefore, in order to help one understand the ways in which this technology can be useful, it is important to have a clear understanding about its pros and cons.
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Ease and convenience
- Easy accessibility
- Home-based consultation
- Better access to specialists
- Increased patient engagement
- Better patient care quality
- Technical training and equipment required
- Increased unemployment.
- Inadequate patient records
- Reduced care continuity
- Lesser in-person consultations
- Complicated reimbursement policies
- Tricky policies
- Shuffling of the service provider
- Impact of Telehealth on healthcare sector
What is the impact of telehealth on healthcare
Telehealth technology that aims to help patients is changing the way medical assistance is availed by them. There are a number of other ways in which telehealth technology is impacting the healthcare sector. They are:
- Easy access to clinical services for patients
- Ease of providing emergency and intensive care services
- Early diagnosis and treatment of a medical condition
- Less costly outcomes
- Lower mortality rates, reduced complications and lesser hospital stays
- Allows serving more patients in lesser time
- Supports clinical education programs in rural areas
- Easy to consult specialists
- Empower patients to stay active during treatment
- Reduced carbon footprint due to reduced travel
- Higher productivity due to better health
- Home monitoring of chronic diseases
- Fewer re-admission to hospitals
Challenges of Telehealth
It is true that telehealth technology has simplified the way we access healthcare services. But it is also important to remember that this technology has a number of negative aspects as well. Some of the common challenges of this technology are:
Unable to conduct thorough examination: There are many cases when a patient is required to undergo a thorough medical examination, which is not possible virtually using telehealth technology.
Security issues: Since a patient is required to share all his/her private information through online mediums, it is important to understand that doing so is not always safe and secure. A patient’s information is always at risk due to lack of cybersecurity breaches. Moreover, a patient may not always claim for insurance as there are a lot of companies that do not cover telehealth services.
Misdiagnosis: Since the patient and the doctor interact virtually through the internet and are not meeting each other personally, it is quite possible that a doctor may misdiagnose a condition or prescribe him/her the medicines that are not actually required.
Telehealth technology allows doctors and experts to provide easy consultation services to the patients. It has made it possible to treat patients anytime, anywhere as per one’s ease and comfort. But it is important to remember that this technology, like every other technology, has its negative aspects as well. Therefore, one must stay vigilant and wary when using telehealth technology so that we all enjoy a better healthcare system.