There is no doubt that the world has been literally turned upside down with the coronavirus crisis. All industries had to change due to social distancing requirements, even those traditionally requiring face-to-face contact, such as healthcare . Rather than seeing patients directly in person, many physicians and healthcare providers are now providing care via the phone or video conferencing. This has now catalyzed the growth of a developing area of healthcare - telehealth. It is estimated that this industry will be valued at $130 billion by 2025.
What Is Telehealth
The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as "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. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications."
The administration also notes that telehealth differs from telemedicine because telehealth refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services. Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services. Due to recent events and as things continue to develop around COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has updated telehealth information. Learn more at https://telehealth.hhs.gov/
Rather than meeting with the patient face-to-face, the healthcare provider makes use of technologies such as Zoom, WebEx, etc. in order to talk with the patient to see what issues they are having, and what the proper course of treatment should be. This avenue can be used also by the physician in order to reach out to a specialist that is located much further away, in case their expertise is needed. Note: Many providers are offering discounts and free services. Click here to learn more.
Store and Forward:
Patients can share important information and data to their healthcare provider with no real-time interaction involved. Healthcare organization have secure portals for patients to submit information and then that documentation is made available to the appropriate healthcare providers for review and care.
Remote Patient Monitoring:
Healthcare providers keep track of their patients' health with real-time monitoring. This typically involves patients wearing devices that can transmit data back to providers. This includes things like monitoring lung pressure; heartbeat; blood glucose patterns, the levels of sleep, etc.
The Benefits of Telehealth
Wider Available Healthcare
Although there are circumstances that will still require face-to-face medical care, rapid developments in cloud technology and virtualization have allowed many physicians to use telehealth to further expand services and provide greater care. Providers can care for patients far away or in rural areas and offer extended hours to service a greater number. Barriers associated with travel, like time restrictions or expenses, can be eliminated through virtual appointments. The telehealth program at Oregon Health and Science University reported saving patients over $6 million on travel costs annually, and a University of Pittsburgh survey showed that 40% of their patients said they would have skipped treatment if they did not have access to virtual care. Telehealth keeps patients connected with healthcare providers to receive necessary services.
Improved Patient Experience
Some patients require medical attention on a much more routine basis, such as people with on-going conditions, the elderly, and those that had surgery and require greater aftercare. Providers can give necessary ongoing care on a more consistent basis and without patients even needing to leave the comforts of their own home. This can help motivate patients to get the help they need and take better care of themselves. Many are satisfied with telehealth services - 87% that used OrthoLive telehealth application said they would use it again and CVS Minute Clinics telehealth services have a 99% satisfaction rate. There also savings associated with some telehealth offerings; the average cost of $150 to see a primary care physician is reduced to an average of $80 with telehealth services.
Better Outcome for Providers
During the time of a health crisis, such as the one we are facing now with the COVID-19, many physicians and healthcare providers are being hit with an influx of patients, more than they can handle. They are also facing grave health risks coming into direct contact with contagious patients. This is where telehealth can be critical in keeping providers and patients safe. Patients can call into their healthcare provider on a secure communications platform, share there symptoms, and providers can devise treatment plans. Providers can assess the patient's state, from a distance, and take appropriate action with a lower level of risk.
Greater Efficiency Within Healthcare Organizations
Telehealth has healthcare benefits but also enables healthcare organizations to continue running as efficiently as possible. Overhead costs can be greatly eliminated, appointments can be less time consuming , and the billing process can be streamlined, especially when it comes to paperwork and dealing with the insurance companies for payment of services. By improving service and efficiency, telehealth can even cut back on unnecessary visits to the ER, which in many places are experiencing overcrowding right now.
Telehealth brings many advantages to healthcare organizations and patients as long as the right tech solutions are in place with HIPAA compliance and proper security. Did you miss Tech Guidance's Let's Talk Telehealth! Tackling Security and Compliance webinar? Download the recording here.