Health Management

By Kambiz Farbakhsh, MD Aka Dr Kamy  Mar 19, 2021

Chief Medical Officer, GeeVida Health

What is Telehealth? All You Need to Know

The term telehealth has been mentioned increasingly during the Covid-19 pandemic. But, even before this health crisis, medical professionals and patients have been engaging in this process. You’ll be surprised to know that since the 1920s, doctors have been using technology, specifically the radio, to help patients aboard ships.

Now, 76% of US hospitals are using telehealth to monitor, diagnose, and treat patients in the comfort of their homes. The said number is a 35% increase from 2010, and more clinics will likely follow suit. So, what exactly is telehealth? 

Read on to know more about its benefits, examples, and uses across branches of medicine.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth is a commonly misunderstood process because, in the US, each state offers a different definition. There are also worries about telehealth’s security due to the lack of face-to-face interactions between the medical practitioner and patient. Moreover, many people are mistaking it for telemedicine, which is a branch of it.

Fortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided a clear definition of telehealth: “delivery of health care services, where patients and providers are separated by distance. [It] uses ICT for the exchange of information for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health professionals…” 

The WHO emphasized that for medical intervention to be categorized as telehealth, the medical practitioner and the patient should be remote from each other. For instance, during the pandemic, even patients inside the hospital can be considered as using telehealth. Since Covid-19 patients need a team of physicians, nurses, and specialists, but with limited contact, it has become a norm that only one doctor will visit the patient and communicate with others through technology, particularly phones and tablets.

The WHO also mentions that through telehealth, medical professionals can diagnose and treat individuals remotely. In some cases, doctors require recording blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, and other essential information to provide accurate diagnoses and effective treatments. Aside from treatments, telehealth also includes billing and payment processes.

How does telehealth work?

Now that you know what telehealth is, it’s time to explore how this technology works in the field of medicine.

A hospital or clinic needs a secure and carefully-designed telehealth platform that follows face-to-face consultations’ clinical guidelines. In this application, the patient’s designated physician can view personal information, like medical history, laboratory reports, scans, images, test results, and other files. Since this works as a regular hospital, there will also be functionalities for scheduling, managing charts, prescribing bills, and making electronic prescriptions.

Besides the software needed to provide telehealth consultations, health care providers also need a reliable internet connection and hardware, such as tablets and computers with high-resolution cameras and clear microphones.

Depending on the patients’ needs, telehealth can be provided in one of the three ways mentioned below:

  • Synchronous

It involves real-time communication between doctors and patients using secure software and by connecting to the internet. Both utilize gadgets, such as tablets, smartphones, laptops, or desktops. In this type of telehealth, patients disclose their symptoms and concerns, while doctors impart their primary diagnosis and treatment.

  • Asynchronous

Before an asynchronous consultation, patients compile medical history, messages, and pathological reports. After that, they send the files to a physician at a later date. This type of care is beneficial in fields with a shortage of specialists and useful for individuals with a hectic schedule.

  • Remote monitoring

As the name suggests, physicians monitor conditions through records of blood pressure, blood sugar levels, heart rate, weight, and other essential information. The patients send these documents to medical practitioners via secure software applications.

Regardless of the consultation type, you can be assured that a telehealth platform conforms to the regulations set by HIPAA or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. HIPAA protects patients against fraud and abuse by ensuring that health care providers handle medical and billing information securely.

Like face-to-face visits, telehealth consultations prioritize your security and privacy. Hence, only authorized persons, such as your physicians and specialists, can view your medical files. This way, your information will only be stored for diagnosing, treating, and monitoring purposes. It’s normal to have worries about telehealth visits, so if you are concerned about your privacy, don’t hesitate to talk about it with your healthcare provider.

How to prepare for a telehealth visit?

You’ve already uncovered how health care providers implement telehealth for their services. Now, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use telehealth effectively by knowing what and how to prepare for a consultation.

  • Patients should have a reliable internet connection and properly functioning gadgets, such as smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. It’s also advisable to check your microphone and webcam before setting a virtual visit.
  • Besides internet connection and gadgets, insurance is also an integral part of a telehealth consultation. It’s a must to communicate with providers regarding insurance coverage since it differs for every state.
  • Take note of symptoms and medical history since health care providers require these details before the online visit.
  • Like outpatient and inpatient care, a virtual visit requires patients to schedule an appointment. It’s done through a HIPAA-compliant platform to ensure confidentiality. Fortunately, these software applications feature automatic alerts to remind patients of their upcoming consultations.
  • Prepare a quiet and private room on the day of consultation. This process ensures no disturbance during the online visit.

What are the benefits of telehealth?

Both patients and health care providers experience benefits from telehealth. Hence, it’s the preferred mode of consultation, especially during this pandemic.

Benefits of telehealth for patients

  • There is less risk of hospital-acquired infections, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic, so telehealth is beneficial for the elderly and persons with compromised immune systems.
  • Adults who take care of their kids or elderly parents can still take care of their well-being because they don’t need to leave the house for a medical consultation.
  • Patients communicate with their doctors in the comfort of their homes, saving time and transportation costs. 
  • For individuals with a busy schedule, there is no need to take time off work since they can set a schedule that won’t interfere with their daily plans. After a consultation, they can immediately go back to work.
  • Most individuals worry about waiting time. During a telehealth visit, there’s a fixed schedule for every patient, so you can be assured that the physician will start the consultation at the agreed time.
  • Patients can contact their preferred specialists even if they practice from hospitals that are far from the patients’ homes.
  • Since patients value the convenience and flexibility that telehealth offers, they become more engaged to stay healthy physically and mentally.

Benefits of telehealth for health care providers

  • Aside from patients, hospitals and clinics also benefit from the reduced operating costs that telehealth offers. It also automates redundant tasks formerly done by employees.
  • Physicians, doctors, specialists, and nurses can experience a flexible work schedule while effectively monitoring their patients’ conditions.
  • It reduces no-show rates since patients don’t need to travel from distant and rural areas. This helps practitioners to improve workplace efficiency and enable physicians to communicate with more individuals.
  • Since people are encouraged to attend consultations, telehealth improves patient satisfaction and engagement. In turn, hospitals can collect genuine comments and suggestions on how they can enhance or maintain their services.
  • Although telehealth monitors patients remotely, it still contributes to better outcomes for individuals who seek medical care, especially those with chronic illnesses. Clinicians can help minimize exposure to contagious diseases that can worsen these patients’ conditions.
  • This technology improves access to health care by offering thousands of people the convenience of talking to a doctor remotely, without compromising the quality of care.

What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Most people use the terms telehealth and telemedicine interchangeably, not knowing that they have stark differences. In the discussion of telehealth vs telemedicine, one primary difference is telehealth’s broader application than telemedicine.

Aside from providing diagnoses and recommending treatments, telehealth also refers to non-clinical services, like health care provider training sessions, continuing medical education, scientific researches, and hospital board meetings. Alternatively, telemedicine solely involves remote clinical services. Thus, telemedicine is a part of telehealth. Other subsets of telehealth include telemonitoring, telepsychiatry, telehealth physical therapy, and telehealth nursing. 

Although they have differences in their scope, both use ICTs or information communication technologies, such as software applications, hardware, internet, wireless networks, computers, tablets, and other gadgets. This way, clinicians and physicians can communicate with their patients, in the case of telemedicine. It also allows hospital employees to evaluate their performance remotely, in the case of telehealth.

Also, both methods help patients acquire the care they need during difficult times. More importantly, telehealth and telemedicine comply with HIPAA regulations to uphold everyone’s safety and privacy. Both of them also contribute to increased efficiency in work and school settings for the modernized and accessible health industry.

What are the examples of telehealth?

Below are telehealth examples in various fields of medicine. This section also shows its significance in managing Covid patients.

  • Covid-19 treatment

Telehealth greatly helped medical professionals and patients during this pandemic. Since hospitals worldwide are near full capacity, doctors use online screening tools to assess individuals remotely. Mobile apps and virtual consultations also allow physicians and specialists to manage the symptoms experienced by Covid-19 patients, with less risk of contracting the virus. Moreover, using telehealth platforms enables doctors and nurses to monitor recovering patients in isolation.

  • Ongoing Chronic Conditions Care 

With hospitals being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and there are concerns about safety among regular patients, telehealth has proven to be useful. Telehealth platforms help patients with chronic conditions manage their symptoms, refill their prescriptions, and consult with their primary physicians from the comfort of their home or office. 

  • Physical Therapy

Even before the pandemic, individuals have been using technology to conduct physical therapy sessions at home. This is especially beneficial for people who have a chronic illness, such as cancer. People who have undergone surgery can also engage in telehealth physical therapy. Now, surgeons use ICTs to monitor their patients’ recovery and guide them to a speedy yet healthy healing process. Besides, individuals who experience minor injuries, like sprain and strain, lower the risk of catching the virus by undergoing virtual consultations at home.

  • Psychiatry

Telepsychiatry provides convenient mental health services to children, students, and the elderly. Moreover, it’s also used in correctional facilities and military clinics, where there is a shortage of on-site psychiatrists and psychologists. In fact, evidence shows that telepsychiatry is highly effective in the treatment of PTSD, which is common in military facilities. The American Psychiatric Association also asserts its importance in helping individuals with depression and ADHD.

  • Urgent Care 

Telehealth platforms allow people requiring immediate care to communicate with their physician or other health care professionals with a few taps of a screen. This way, they will know if they can manage the emergency at home or would need to go to a hospital. This can save patients the hassle of waiting in the ER and also provide a sense of comfort and relief, given that help is just at their fingertips.    

What is the future of telehealth?

Even before Covid-19 struck, telehealth was already a thriving industry. Still, the question remains, what is the future of telehealth post-pandemic?

  • People are more likely to turn to telehealth consultations regarding chronic illnesses. Since it involves shorter wait times, more individuals will choose to schedule a virtual visit over going to an outpatient clinic for monitoring their health. After the pandemic, health care providers can still expect people to set online appointments, especially residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. 
  • Aside from disabled and elderly patients, people who have minor injuries are also expected to continue setting online consultations since they already experienced the convenience of remote communication with doctors, physicians, and nurses. Individuals who are seeking medical care will also choose hospitals and clinics that offer telehealth services.
  • According to AMA or the American Medical Association, expect that there would be changes in telehealth regulations regarding fees and insurance policies. As a result, more people will have access to remote and affordable care.
  • Medical professionals will continue to use telehealth for research purposes. This way, they can reach more participants without compromising confidentiality agreements. It also cut down transportation costs, allowing researchers to utilize funds effectively.

It’s not surprising that telehealth will continue to progress after the pandemic due to the numerous benefits it offers. Who knows, after several years, it may even become the norm in the medical field.

Explore our website to know more about GeeVida Health. 

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