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What is asynchronous telehealth?

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Asynchronous telehealth viii captures clinically important digital samples (e.g., still images, video, audio, text files) and relevant data in one location and subsequently transmits these files for interpretation at a remote site by health professionals without requiring the simultaneous presence of the patient involved and his or her healthcare provider. Its utility in the healthcare system, however, still remains poorly defined. We conducted this scoping review to determine the impact of asynchronous telehealth on health outcomes, process of care, access to health services, and health resources. 

Asynchronous telehealth is defined as the transmission of recorded health history through an electronic communications system to a practitioner, usually a specialist, who uses the information to evaluate the case or render a service outside of real-time or live interaction—thus enabling providers to access specialist input within their own workflow. The most common form of asynchronous telehealth is e-consults, commonly used in radiology, pathology, dermatology, and ophthalmology.  

In ophthalmology, for instance, eye screenings for diabetic retinopathy can be captured digitally by retinal cameras and transmitted to a specialist for review. The e-consult segment of telehealth has improved access, quality, satisfaction, and efficiency for many patients by reducing unnecessary referrals and allowing patients to be treated more often. Despite its usefulness, however, asynchronous telehealth is frequently overlooked by healthcare providers planning and budgeting for a telehealth strategy. This is generally due to a lack of understanding of how this modality fits into an overall telehealth strategy and uncertainties surrounding reimbursement for use of associated technologies. Therefore, it seems prudent to introduce asynchronous telehealth, specifically highlighting its benefits and common forms, as well as outlining how reimbursement changes allow this important option to fit more easily into a truly complete telehealth strategy.