The global pandemic of COVID-19 has changed how we go about our daily routines. Most schools are now learning virtually, people are working from home and many healthcare providers are able to see patients and distribute information to them virtually via telehealth. This article discusses how telehealth is changing medicine.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth, also called telemedicine is the exchange of medical information from location to another using electronic communication ie. webcams, computers and mobile devices.
Examples of how telehealth is changing medicine
- Primary Care: With telemedicine, healthcare professionals are able to have primary care check-ups and consultations with patients looking for a specialist remotely.
- Patient Monitoring: Telehealth is changing medicine by allowing patients to be monitored remotely. This remote monitoring is used to supplement services that are provided by visiting nurses. Remote patient monitoring allows patients and providers a much easier venue to stay in close contact. The key to successful remote patient monitoring is to ensure the patient has the right health tracking tools in their home. This is becoming easier as wearables and mobile medical devices increase in popularity and availability. Patients now have access to better and cheaper tools to track their health signs and their medical data than ever before.
- Mental Health: COVID-19 is contributing to a growing mental health crisis in America. Statistics show that 1/3 of Americans are showing signs of depression and anxiety. That’s up from one in ten people just last year. Telemedicine has been extremely beneficial for both patients and providers in the mental health arena during COVID-19. It allows the patient to not worry about coming into the office and risking exposure while also being able to be treated from the comfort of their own home. When dealing with mental health issues, patients are a lot more likely to talk openly when they are feeling comfortable and not intimidated. Their home is a perfect setting for this. Telehealth also allows for more open communication between patient and provider. The provider is able to easily shoot a text or a video chat to check in on a patient without worrying about scheduling an in-person appointment.
- Nursing Homes: Geriatric care and nursing home care is another area where telehealth is changing medicine. Patients in a nursing home are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and suffering harsher symptoms from the virus. In fact, eight out of ten deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have been patients age 65 and older. By allowing this vulnerable population to be seen by a doctor virtually, they are cutting their risk of contracting COVID-19 significantly. Virtual nursing home visits are also safer for the provider because nursing homes around the country have seen significant outbreaks of COVID-19 and this prevents the provider from having to physically go into the area.
- Pediatric Services: Telehealth is changing medicine with pediatrics which is growing in popularity. During a virtual visit with the pediatrician, children are able to have exams for routine conditions, medication management and mental health services among other services. Pediatric telehealth is great for parents too because it makes the appointment less of a disruption to their daily routine. They won’t have to take as much time off of work, if any and they don’t have to worry about transportation to and from the appointment. There’s also the benefit of reduced exposure.
Telehealth versus telemedicine
Telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably, but technically, there is a difference between the two. Telehealth is the broad term that includes all health services used via technology. Telemedicine refers specifically to clinical services rendered via technology.
An example of telehealth is a video-conferencing platform for medical education whereas an example of telemedicine is an app that allows physicians to treat their patients remotely.
Benefits of telehealth
Telehealth offers a lot of benefits, especially right now during COVID-19 when some patients may be scared to come into a hospital or medical group and a lot of healthcare providers are urging patients to stay at home in order to lower their risk of contracting COVID-19. Telemedicine also expands access to quality care for patients, especially those living in underserved areas. They now have access to quality care and specialists that they otherwise may have had to travel long distances to get, now they can get the services they need from the comfort of their homes. Telemedicine also improves the quality of care by allowing providers an easy method to follow up with patients. Whether a healthcare provider follows up via remote monitoring, texting or video chatting about questions, it’s much easier to be in communication with patients with the help of telemedicine.
Cons of telehealth
Telehealth, just like anything, does come with a few downfalls. The biggest hurdle is the need for technology. First, most healthcare organizations will need to purchase equipment and applications in order to use telemedicine appropriately. The patient will also need to have at least a smartphone and a good internet connection. I’t also important that patients and healthcare providers are trained how to properly and easily use the technology in order for the telemedicine appointments to go smoothly.
Telehealth may reduce in-person visits between patient and healthcare provider. Critics of telemedicine argue that these virtual interactions are impersonal and that in-person exams are needed to make an accurate and complete diagnosis. There are also worries with continuity of care when using telehealth since the patient is able to log in and access a wide array of doctors on-demand via telehealth, they may see a different doctor every time instead of seeing the same doctor regularly in-person.
The benefits of telehealth are plentiful, especially during these unprecedented times. It’s important to remember however that telehealth is not a replacement for in-person visits, but instead it is a supplement. It is an important supplement to be able to give patients flexible access to a wide array of healthcare services. Though COVID-19 has created a surge in demand for telehealth, it’s becoming increasingly clear that telehealth services are not going anywhere and we think that’s a great think for patients and providers alike.
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