Have you ever contacted your family doctor in the middle of the night for help?. If you answered yes, you’ve already used a basic version of telehealth.
But today, thanks to the internet and smartphone revolution, we have the technology and tools necessary to make telehealth extremely successful, efficient, and life-saving.
Telehealth has been a hot topic in the healthcare industry for quite some time. It has both excited and concerned healthcare experts equally. While some fear telehealth threatens the physician-patient relationship, others believe it will make healthcare more accessible and affordable.
How does telehealth work? How will it enhance a provider’s practice? Are there any technological and workflow barriers? What equipment is required to provide telehealth? how does telehealth decrease health disparities?
We answer all these questions and more in this blog. Keep reading to know about telehealth’s impact on the healthcare industry.
Telehealth On The Rise
Medicine and healthcare, like almost everything else, are fast evolving in our technological age. It would not be over-exaggeration if we say that telehealth (also known as telemedicine) is the next big thing in the healthcare industry. A big reason for this has been the outbreak of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).
Ever since the start of the pandemic, there has been a massive acceleration in the use of telehealth services. In 2020, the global telemedicine market size was estimated at USD 55.9 billion. It is expected to grow at a rate of 22.4% in the coming years.
The factors contributing to this exponential growth are:
● Patient willingness to use telehealth services.
● Increase the confidence of providers in telehealth efficiency and effectiveness
● Favorable regulatory and reimbursement policies
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What Exactly is Telehealth?
Telehealth is the delivery of healthcare services using real-time, two-way electronic audiovisual communication technology, most commonly video conferencing.
Telehealth has a lot of potential in general – there are a lot of smart, practical uses for it to be used as a technique to increase convenience and cut overall healthcare expenses.
It might include everything from online medical consultations to remote monitoring of patients’ vital signs. It has a broader meaning than telemedicine, which is restricted to the delivery of health care over the internet. Telehealth also includes the training and continuing education of medical practitioners.
Telehealth Vs Telemedicine
Telemedicine and telehealth are two terms that are often confused with one another. However, they aren’t the same. The prefix, “tele” means “at a distance”. When healthcare is delivered at a distance, it is called telehealthcare or telehealth. Compared to telemedicine, telehealth refers to a broader scope of remote health care services.
Telehealth can be categorized into three types:
● Synchronous—Patient communicates with a physician in real-time, usually over the phone or via video.
● Asynchronous—Also referred to as “store-and-forward”, there is no live interaction between patients and providers. Patient information is sent (mailed) and then stored until it is reviewed by the provider.
● Remote patient monitoring—Use of digital technologies to monitor and gather medical and other health data from patients, and then electronically transfer this data to healthcare providers for evaluation and, if necessary, suggestions and instructions.
Benefits of Telehealth
Comfort and Convenience
When you’re unwell, telemedicine eliminates the need to go to the doctor’s office or clinic or sit in a waiting room. From the comfort of your bed or sofa, you can consult with your doctor. Especially, if you have a child at home or are unable to find time from work, telehealth could just be the solution you need.
Control of Infectious Illness
To assist prevent the spread of COVID-19, flu, and other infectious diseases, doctors can use telehealth visits to prescreen patients for suspected infectious diseases. Everyone, especially those who are chronically ill, pregnant, old, or immunocompromised, benefits from less exposure to other people’s germs.
When seeing your doctor, it’s usually beneficial to have a family member present by your side. Having a family member present to assist you in presenting facts, asking questions, and taking notes on your doctor’s comments is usually beneficial while seeing your doctor. If you allow it, a family member can be part of a virtual visit, even if they live out of town or across the nation.
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Experts that know how to use contemporary medical technology and robotics are scarce. There is a scarcity of specialist doctors and surgeons in a given field. These are only a few of the reasons that contribute to rising healthcare costs. Telehealth reduces costs by overcoming these barriers.
Why is Telehealth Important?
Telehealth is important because it makes healthcare more accessible and allows for more innovation. In low- and middle-income nations, inadequate health care claims the lives of 5 million people each year. Telehealth can be tremendous assistance or perhaps even a lifesaver in such regions.
What Patients Can do With Telehealth?
● Share weight, diet, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels with a doctor in real-time.
● Schedule a virtual visit with the doctor as per need and convenience.
● Conveniently keep track of visits, test results, bills, prescriptions, and other information using an online portal/dashboard.
● Instantly send test results, medical records, and other information to multiple providers via email or WhatsApp.
● Consult providers across different locations, as well as seamlessly coordinate your treatment with providers in your current location.
● Get email or SMS reminders for tests, lab visits, virtual visits, etc.
Cons of Telehealth Software
Telehealth is a convenient and cost-effective option to consult a doctor without leaving your house, but it does have certain drawbacks.
● It is not possible to perform every type of visit from afar. For imaging tests and blood tests, as well as diagnoses that require more hands-on treatment, you’ll still need to see your doctor.
● Hackers target electronic health records, particularly third-party health apps.
● Insurance companies are increasingly covering the cost of telehealth visits during the COVID-19 outbreak; nevertheless, some services may not be fully covered.
Telehealth for Improving Rural Healthcare
Telehealth has the potential to be a strong tool for addressing health inequities in rural areas.
Rural locations have limited access to healthcare training and education, which adds to the challenges of providing comprehensive health care. Telehealth has the potential to keep rural providers updated and educated about medical developments and evidence-based procedures, allowing them to give better care.
However, implementing telehealth solutions in a rural landscape is not without its fair share of challenges. The primary among these include:
● Limited Access to High-Speed Internet
● Limited Access to Smartphones
● Mistrust of Technology and Healthcare
Telehealth Technology in Hospitals
The advantages of telehealth for patients are self-evident. What, on the other hand, does it mean for hospitals that offer telehealth services?
As it turns out, hospitals too can benefit significantly by integrating telehealth solutions.
- Earning additional revenue: Attract new patients who are unable to drive a long distance to see their doctor regularly. Simultaneously, store-and-forward technology allows healthcare workers to consult with physicians in remote places while still billing for their services.
- Boosting staff productivity: To begin with, doctors and nurses do not have a lot of spare time. Hospitals benefit from telehealth in a variety of ways, including efficiency and outsourcing. Because virtual visits save time, patients are less likely to miss subsequent appointments.
- Reducing readmissions: Hospital readmissions are expensive and affect every part of the healthcare ecosystem, from providers to payers to patients. A comprehensive telehealth solution can help healthcare providers achieve organizational goals like reducing avoidable readmission with continuous monitoring and real-time interventions.
- Greater community visibility: According to recent studies, the majority of consumers want to use telehealth services. People are increasingly looking for solutions that are both convenient and flexible. Virtual visits and innovative remote patient monitoring (RPM) solutions help health institutions gain a positive social media presence and attract new patients.
Telemedicine software is still a very new discipline. It has the potential to be an appealing alternative to standard acute, chronic, and preventative therapy while also delivering better clinical outcomes.
Patients benefit from telehealth because it allows them to obtain care when they need it, saving them both time and money. It’s critical to strike a balance between telehealth and traditional in-person care, as well as educate patients about when to use each.
Healthcare professionals, including administrators, should continue to look for ways to incorporate new technologies like AI and VR into their practices to increase access and equity.