Telehealth: Merging Technology with Healthcare

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak drastically changed the lives of almost every individual, with transitions to a hybrid working environment. Companies and firms are turning to a hybrid working environment to compromise with policies implemented by the authorities. Shopping online has become more prevalent among consumers, and even classes are held online. Hence, the world seems to be shifting online with technological advancements emerging to cope with the changes.

In the healthcare industry, several technologies are being developed to deliver crucial medical services to those in need. The third wave of the World Health Organization‘s Global Pulse Survey on the provision of vital medical services during the COVID-19 pandemic found that over 90 percent of the nations polled confirmed persistent delays. Hence, the healthcare system is now shifting to providing medical services online to shed light on this problem. One of the technological advancements introduced in the health care setting is Telehealth.

Telehealth

The health society can anticipate that several new advances, such as Telehealth, or the use of communication networks that can provide medical services from a distance, will soon become more noticeable in the healthcare industry, considering the financial support that has previously been funneling into medical technologies due to COVID-19. Computers, webcams, video streaming, the Internet, satellite communications systems, and wireless technologies are a few examples of this.

Other several options available for telehealth care include:

  • A phone conversation or online video conference serves as a “virtual visit” with a medical professional.
  • Your doctor can check on you while you’re home through remote patient monitoring. You could, for instance, wear a device that records your heart rate and transmits it to your health care provider.
  • A surgeon is performing surgery remotely with robotic technology.
  • Sensors that can notify family members if a dementia patient leaves the house.
  • Use your electronic health record (EHR) to communicate with your doctor.
  • Watching an instructional internet video for using an inhaler your doctor supplied you.
  • Receiving a reminder through email, phone, or text that a cancer screening is due.

Healthcare has undergone an irreversible transformation in most developed nations, and telemedicine usage has surpassed a critical mass. According to McKinsey, telehealth claims climbed 78 times between February and April 2020. Within this month, health care providers used telehealth systems for approximately one in three sessions. Following this increase, utilization began to level off over the ensuing months. Even though the figure has stabilized for more than six months, it is still 38 percent greater than before the outbreak. 

Types of Telehealth

There are four fundamental types of telehealth, and several platforms merge two or more forms to offer better comprehensive care, according to Telebehavioral Health Institute’s Telehealth.org. Doctors or practitioners will benefit from being aware of these four kinds of telehealth, considering that financing for telehealth is growing and is anticipated to continue growing.

These four main types include:

1. Synchronous Telehealth

A very well-known technology-based healthcare program in telehealth or telemedicine is synchronous interaction. Any video conference or live chat program that enables a healthcare professional to speak with a customer or patient in the present or live is included under synchronous telehealth. Employing two-way, interactive applications installed on personal computers, laptops, tablets, or other mobile devices like smartphones, are some of the tools used during consultations performed over distance.

2. Remote Patient Monitoring or RPM

Practitioners can capture and keep track of a patient’s health information virtually, thanks to remote patient monitoring (RPM). It uses technical tools to obtain the vital signs required to track a patient’s status. Patients with chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, and cardiovascular disorders are typically advised to use RPM. It has the significant benefit of offering routine monitoring at a lower cost. For telehealth insurance and remote patient monitoring, certain state restrictions exist.

3. Store-and-Forward Telemedicine

Store-and-forward telehealth, also referred to as asynchronous telehealth, uses sophisticated technology to facilitate data collection, storage in a secure cloud-based platform, and later retrieval by a separate treating expert or member of staff, frequently in a different location. Specific protocols are created, specialists are screened, and necessary permissions are given. The information gathered can be in the form of videotaped screening interviews, biosignals, x-ray or ultrasound scan images, health histories, or any other quantifiable health parameter. This kind of telehealth is especially useful in remote areas where access to specialists is constrained. Patients’ information is digitally sent by these providers to experts in other regions for consultation.

4. Mobile Health

Mobile health is the fourth variety of telehealth. Since constant data gathering regarding a person’s behavior or condition is possible, medical workers and specialists can use smart devices for various elements of healthcare. Numerous parameters, including heart rate, blood sugar levels, and the quality of exhaled air, can be tracked by smartphones, tablets, and wearable technologies like iWatch. The availability of apps that offer cardiac variability ratings, sleep cycles, movement monitoring, weight fluctuations, food tracking, and much more encourages healthy lifestyles and habits. Telehealth professionals suggest these apps to patients or clients and incorporate the results into their medical files.

Difference Between Telemedicine and Telehealth

Although telehealth and telemedicine services are not entirely new, their use has recently increased dramatically, so you may now hear the phrases more commonly. Telehealth and telemedicine are sometimes used interchangeably. There has been a considerable misunderstanding regarding whether they refer to the same or separate services. Even though some people use the terms synonymously, telehealth and telemedicine have some distinctions.

Telemedicine is the practice of employing technology to provide medical care remotely. A doctor in one place utilizes a telecommunications system to treat a patient at another location.

Telehealth generally pertains to technological advances and services to deliver care remotely.

As a result, telehealth is distinct from telemedicine because it covers a wider range of remote medical services. Although telehealth can also apply to distant non-clinical treatments, telemedicine is specifically used to describe remote clinical services.

Benefits of Telehealth

Cost reductions, efficiency, and the capacity to provide care to those with physical impairments or those living in remote places without access to a local doctor or health center are just a few benefits of using technologies to ensure health care. These factors have contributed to the huge increase in telehealth usage during the past ten years. Today, 76 percent of health care facilities in the United States use telehealth to link patients and doctors virtually, up from 35 percent ten years ago.

Below are some of the possible benefits of Telehealth:

  • According to some studies, telehealth users spend a shorter time in the hospital, which results in cost savings. Additionally, reduced traveling time might result in lower supplementary costs like child care and gas.
  • Individuals with disabilities can more easily access care thanks to telehealth. Other demographics, such as elderly folks, those who are relatively isolated, and those who are institutionalized, may also benefit from improved accessibility.
  • Telehealth may make it easier for people to access medical care that improves their health in the long term. This is specifically true for people with financial or geographic barriers to quality care.
  • People can get care through telehealth in the convenience and security of their very own households. Telehealth can relieve someone of the need to plan daycare or take time off from work.
  • Visits to the clinic or hospital frequently include being close to persons who may be ill. Proximity can be especially deadly for those with pre-existing medical issues or weakened immune systems due to the risk of being infected by a virus infection. Telehealth removes the chance of contracting an infection while visiting the doctor.

Problems with Telehealth

Telehealth is a practical and affordable option to see a doctor without leaving your house, but it also has certain drawbacks. While many in the sector remain positive about the promise of virtual care, others still have some worries. Although virtual care technology has advanced greatly, it is not yet perfect. As telehealth technology progresses at a staggering pace, the regulatory environment has been unable to keep up.

The following sections look at some disadvantages of Telehealth:

  • Insurance companies do not always cover telemedicine. Approximately 26 states mandate that insurance companies pay for or compensate for telemedicine expenses. These regulations, however, are always altering.
  • Medical information about a patient may also be accessible to hackers, scammers, and other cyber criminals, particularly if the patient uses a public network or an unsecured connection to access telehealth services.
  • Considering Telehealth first when a patient needs emergency care could cause a delay in care, especially since a doctor cannot conduct laboratory testing or deliver life-saving care virtually.
  • It may not be easy to choose the correct digital platform to use. A poor connection can also make it challenging to provide high-quality care. Clinicians must also guarantee that the Telehealth software they employ is safe and complies with all applicable privacy regulations.
  • Providers must rely on patient self-reports during telemedicine sessions. This may require clinicians to ask more questions to ensure that they get a comprehensive health history. If a patient leaves out an important symptom that might have been noticeable during in-person care, this can compromise treatment.

Types of Care Through Telehealth

Telehealth offers a wide range of specialized care. Telehealth is particularly useful for tracking and addressing ongoing medical situations like drug adjustments or chronic illnesses.

Whether telehealth is a good fit for your medical need will be determined by your doctor. Ask your doctor’s office about your telehealth alternatives, specifically if you are worried about the COVID-19 virus’s potential health risks.

An article from Harvard Health Publishing states that all of the following activities and services are possible with the help of telehealth:

  • Through wearable technology or manual tracking, you may record your medical information such as weight, food intake, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels that you can email your doctor.
  • Have an online visit with your doctor or a nurse over your computer or smartphone.
  • You may arrange an appointment, leave your doctor a message, review your test results, and ask for prescription refills via an online platform.
  • Inform all the healthcare professionals you see about your test findings, diagnosis, prescriptions, and drug allergies.
  • Coordinating your treatment with any experts you see, including sharing test results and consultation notes with medical practices in various locations.
  • You may receive email or text notifications when it’s time for regular vaccines, examinations, or other procedures.
  • Check on older people at home to ensure they eat, sleep, and take their medication at the right time.

Getting help with access

Even if you’d prefer to attempt telehealth, various obstacles can make it difficult to quickly obtain online services, such as lack of insurance coverage to cover the Telehealth service costs or no access to internet connections. You can still get telehealth services, though, in several ways.

Since governments have adopted more financial support due to the pandemic-related restrictions, you might try to qualify for financial assistance and lower premiums on health insurance plans if you do not have the money to cover Telehealth costs. Most clients are eligible for lower-cost plans, including visits to medical professionals, prescription medicines, and preventative treatments.

If you don’t have access to the internet, you might be able to use telehealth services at public internet access locations like libraries, community centers, or other locations. In a public setting, it might not be advisable to have video or phone conversations. Additionally, if you are not confident about using Telehealth technology, you may take your time to familiarize yourself with how to use it before your appointment. If you have someone knowledgeable about Telehealth platforms, you may ask them to help you.

Summary

Telehealth has gained popularity among patients and medical professionals ever since the coronavirus pandemic started. It can lessen the obstacles to accessing treatment for patients with physical limitations, those who are elderly, or those who live in rural locations. Due to the numerous advantages of telemedicine, the industry will keep expanding after the epidemic. 

However, although Telehealth has various applications, it also has several drawbacks. Its greatest potential, therefore, resides in enhancing physical appointments. More so, a permanent structure for the delivery of telehealth services still has to be finalized by government agencies and other stakeholders to further improve its effectiveness and efficiency in resolving disruptions to health care delivery.

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