Telehealth has been defined as the delivery and facilitation of health and health-related services including medical care, provider and patient education, health information services, self-care via telecommunications and digital communication technologies.
Technology that is utilized to store, share, or synthesize health data can be referred to as “health information technology” or healthIT. This wide classification includes practice management systems to online patient portals. Telehealth technology includes both software and hardware.
Not all government organizations classify telehealth in the same specifications, but the majority are compatible with the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, whose definition of telehealth is as follows, “The use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”
The phrases telehealth and telemedicine are sometimes used interchangeably, but telehealth has advanced to capture a larger range of digital healthcare activities and services.
Why is Telehealth Important?
On a macro level, telehealth technologies improve the effectiveness of the healthcare system by enhancing the productivity of providers and eliminating geographical boundaries.
The United States population is getting older, growing in size, and becoming more susceptible to chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, cancer and diabetes; this reality is putting pressure on our healthcare system. However, there is a lack of providers licensed to practice care, so our healthcare community is forced to make intelligent decisions on how to leverage resources and provide high-caliber solutions for patients.
Types of Telehealth
Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM), also referred to as self-monitoring or self-testing, is a way to remotely observe patient health and clinical data. RPM includes the reporting, accumulation, transmission, and assessment of patient health data through electronic devices such as wearables, mobile devices, and cell phone apps. It assists in simplifying patient compliance (by serving as a reminder for them) through testing, and it reduces the cost of recurring monitoring. Collecting and transferring information has proven to be invaluable for patient care outcomes, including sharing vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rates, oxygen levels, and respiratory functionality.
Store-and-forward is the original type of telehealth technology. Store-and-forward telehealth refers to collecting, storing, and transmitting patient health information from one provider to another provider. For example, if a cardiologist electronically sends lab results to an electrophysiologist, they are leveraging Store-and-forward.
This type of activity is one of the most common uses, but a variety of information can be shared among physicians such as CAT Scans, MRIs, X-rays, photos, videos, and text-based patient data. Technologies used for Store-and-forward telehealth include secure servers and routers that temporarily contain incoming batches of information, and then direct them to the relevant provider. Secure email platforms are also used for Store-and- forward telehealth.
Real-Time Communication (audio and video)
The name ‘telehealth technology’ personifies real-time communication. Clinicians are overcoming distance, for patients who are not able to travel, by offering appointments utilizing real-time video communication platforms. This means when a patient and a provider are not at the same location, they can communicate via a video-enabled device, phone or computer. The patient could be at home, at their place of work, or they could be at another healthcare facility in conjunction with a partnering caretaker on site. The good news is that, often times, state laws require insurers to reimburse for “video visits.”
This type of technology for virtual appointments have also been used to offer care for military soldiers, prison inmates, and populations located in rural areas. Both insurance companies and government agencies have been creatively utilizing telehealth modalities to expand healthcare access, using video scopes and high-resolution cameras to diagnose and treat patients from afar. Virtual appointments can also help to cut hard costs, for example — reducing inmate transportation to visit outside medical facilities.
Patients Love Telehealth and Technology
Today’s busy patient is looking for providers who utilize telehealth technology. They are used to being on electronic devices around the clock, working remotely, and having information at a moment’s notice by tapping into the world wide web — taking care of their health is no different. Telehealth is appealing to patients because of reduced travel time, reduced expense, and less time away from work. Telehealth appointments also reduce exposure to other patients who may have an infectious illness.
In our upcoming newsletter publication, we’ll uncover what the differences are between telehealth and telemedicine.