According to CDC data, 95% of American health centers provided virtual care in 2020. Just one year earlier, just 43% of clinics reported using those same services.
Some centers were clearly already seeing the benefit of telemedicine before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US in early 2020. But the pandemic was directly responsible for this dramatic rise in services.
How does this help the average American patient? Read on to find out services you can take advantage of in the rapidly evolving telehealth sector.
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What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth refers to a new era of healthcare. Various healthcare providers use remote communication technologies to care for their patients. This might include simply talking on the phone, or it may consist of more complex arrangements like video conferencing.
Practices included under the telehealth umbrella include:
- Virtually “visiting” with your primary healthcare provider
- Receiving appointment follow up email or text message notifications
- Receiving health reports via email, phone, or text message
- Remote robotic surgery
- Remote elderly or dementia care via cameras and sensors
- Remote health data monitoring using implants or wearable devices
- Fill and receive prescriptions entirely online
Already, people can securely log in online to centralized healthcare systems.
- View their appointments
- Meet with doctors
- Make payments
- View their patient records
- Schedule checkups
And these kinds of services are only expected to expand.
Are Telehealth and Telemedicine the Same?
In many cases, the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” are used analogously. In actual fact, these terms are slightly different. They refer to different practices and sectors within the healthcare industry.
Telehealth is a more wide-ranging term that telemedicine fits within.
- Patient care, treatment, and diagnosis
- Medicine prescription
- Healthcare worker training and administration
Telemedicine, on the other hand, only refers to the practice of diagnosing and treating patients. This could be via telephone or another virtual communication device.
What Types of Telemedicine Can I Access Today?
Telehealth services can be divided into four primary categories. These include asynchronous video, mobile health, live video conferencing, and remote patient monitoring.
Within these categories are a range of patient health services and benefits.
Nurses can check on people living in elderly care centers. Patients can order medications like Spinhaler through an online pharmacy. And everything in between.
Healthcare providers use asynchronous video to deliver a patient’s medical history to one another. It’s also known as Store-and-Forward.
For example, a patient may live rurally but need to see a specialist in the city. Or a disabled person can’t leave their house to visit a clinic or travel out of state. Their primary healthcare provider can send their records to the specialist office securely.
Healthcare specialists often combine asynchronous video with other telehealth technologies. These include live video conferencing and mobile health. In this way, a patient could consult with the specialist entirely online, and they would receive their records to aid in the consultation.
Anytime you access health-related software using your smart devices, you’re engaging in the practice of mobile health. For example, you might use your smartphone, tablet, or smartwatch. It’s also known as mHealth in the healthcare sector.
This could be something as simple as the Health app integrated into the Apple IOS. You can record everything from your daily blood pressure readings to how many steps you walked that day.
In a clinical setting, your doctor uses these apps and the data they provide. They help you better manage chronic conditions, lose weight, and much more.
Live Video Conferencing
Just as you would hold a virtual meeting with your work colleagues, today, you can chat with online doctors via live video conferencing. Video conferencing offers a way for physicians, therapists, psychologists, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners to connect with patients remotely.
They might use it to diagnose patients, provide advice or guidance, counsel, check-ups, or patient results. This technology also allows communities in difficult-to-reach places better access to healthcare services.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote patient monitoring, often shortened to RPM by professionals in the healthcare sector, refers to situations where a patient’s health data is collected using a device and then sent to their care provider remotely. The care provider could be their doctor, a nurse, or a family member.
Today, RPM is most often used in senior care. For example, seniors are monitored remotely to prevent falls or watch for alarming spikes or drops in their vital signs. However, it can also be used in other settings, such as health data sharing between a coach and a professional athlete.
Benefits and Challenges of Telehealth
While it might seem like telehealth has all benefits and few downsides, there are numerous challenges ahead to ensure patients feel valued and doctors and other healthcare providers provide adequate care.
Some of the benefits of telehealth include:
- Easier access from home or work
- Better access to specialists
- Ongoing support for people with chronic conditions
- After-hours or 24-7 access to care
- Improved healthcare-to-patient ratios
- Cheaper bills and fees
- Easier coordination between different healthcare providers
Some of the challenges posed by telehealth include:
- Lack of access to complete medical histories
- Lack of communication between healthcare providers
- Greater potential for misdiagnosis for certain conditions
- Technology issues, like slow connections or expensive internet rates
- Not all insurance companies offer telehealth coverage
In most cases, with time, these challenges and problems will be overcome. In the future, we’ll likely see a hybrid system that combines in-person practice with telehealth.
Virtual Care Is the Future of Healthcare
Virtual care is set to revolutionize the healthcare industry.
Patients will no longer have to travel long distances or wait forever to be seen by their primary healthcare provider or even specialists. A prescription could be given and filled entirely online. And mental healthcare patients can already access therapy and other services over the phone or via video chat.
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If you’re interested in learning more about healthcare may change in the near future, browse our other articles.