What is Telehealth – Overview
Telehealth is the process of using telecommunication to deliver health and medical care services from remote locations. This technology lets people in need of medical care talk with their healthcare providers from the comfort of their homes through smartphones, tablets, and computers.
Telehealth also includes health-related education and training services for patient care, such as nutrition courses and diabetes management. Telemedicine is only a part of telehealth and refers to delivering clinical care using virtual methods.
According to reports by the American Medical Association, over 85% of physicians in the US provide telehealth services.
How Does Telehealth Work?
Telehealth basically refers to healthcare professionals providing medical services to patients from different locations using telecommunication technology. Telehealth may involve using communication modes, such as email, phone calls, text messaging, video calls, or similar forms of digital communication.
These are some of the most common telehealth services provided in the US:
- Health checkups with physicians and other healthcare providers
- Therapy sessions with mental healthcare providers
- Testing for general illnesses and ailments
- Follow-up appointments after hospitalization
- Nutrition counseling
- Weight management
- Support/coaching services for chronic health conditions
- Care for individuals in rural areas with difficult-to-access healthcare facilities
- Non-emergency healthcare for long-term nursing care facility residents
Here’s a detailed look at the types of services you can receive under telehealth:
1 – Virtual doctor’s visits
Some doctor’s clinics use telehealth technology to provide remote patient care. For instance, the clinic can offer a virtual visit to see a healthcare provider, mental health expert or professional nurses using phone or online video calls. These virtual visits are efficient for receiving appropriate non-emergency medical care for many disorders, such as diabetes, skin conditions, migraines, anxiety, colds, depression, etc. Virtual visits let you get medical care from professionals without traveling to the doctor’s clinic or hospital.
2 – Health and wellness counseling
Some patients often use online or phone-based communication to seek medical and healthcare advice. Once you log in or call a telehealth service provider, you are directed to answer a few questions. This helps the professional to determine your problem, diagnose it appropriately and recommend the correct medication and treatment.
3 – Remote health monitoring
Today, numerous technologies allow doctors and healthcare professionals to offer their services to patients from remote locations. Some of the most commonly used technologies for remote health monitoring include web-based and mobile-based apps that let you upload data to healthcare providers.
Different devices, such as wearable tech, can measure your vital stats and transmit them wirelessly to healthcare professionals. These smartwatches and other devices can effectively record data, such as blood sugar levels, heart rate, etc. to be used by your healthcare provider.
4 – Inter-professional communication
Telehealth technology has more to it than just simply monitoring a patient’s health. Medical professionals use telehealth technology to communicate with other specialists and healthcare providers engaged in your treatment.
This technology allows your primary care provider to send notes and share lab results and other relevant documents with specialists and the rest of the healthcare team. In some instances, telehealth technology also helps nurses and other healthcare professionals to provide medical care from a mobile van, medical clinic, or office in rural areas.
Telehealth technology allows people to access information and to receive services that were conventionally possible only with a personal visit to the doctor’s clinic or hospital.
What are the Types of Telehealth?
Four types of services are included in Telehealth, namely:
- Live video
- Store and forward
- Remote patient monitoring
- Mobile health
Each of the four telehealth services covers different aspects of healthcare services and fulfills the different needs of patients.
The major benefit of Telehealth is the ease of access to quality healthcare for most. People living in rural and isolated areas often find it difficult to seek medical care as hospitals and clinics are usually situated at large distances.
Besides this, people from rural areas often find it difficult to visit a medical specialist when needed. However, with telehealth services, these problems are resolved effectively.
As with any new technology, telehealth has a few drawbacks. The main drawback of this technology is that it doesn’t allow doctors to diagnose and treat patients for all medical problems. For instance, telehealth is not useful in emergency situations, such as heart attacks or severe injuries.
Though remote patient monitoring lets doctors supervise the patient’s vital from a remote location, telehealth technology is not advanced enough to allow for x-rays, blood tests, MRIs, or surgeries. For these, the patient still needs to go visit a doctor or a hospital physically.
Telehealth and Insurance Coverage
Individual states have the authority to determine the specifics of insurance coverage for telehealth services. According to statistics, 43 states in the US have some form of private payer policy that usually requires insurance carriers to reimburse for services that are similar to in-person healthcare visits.
State Medicaid policies vary, but all states have provisions for an insurance claim for virtual healthcare visits.
A new amendment in policy in 2020 ensured that physicians could recommend them to patients with the lowest incomes. Most of these online healthcare services continue to provide coverage until the end of the calendar year.
Definition of Telehealth and Its Future Prospects
The telehealth boom actually occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted in immense investment for telehealth companies. For instance, total venture capital funding for telehealth in the US in the first half of 2021 rose to US$ 15 billion.
The widespread adoption of telehealth technology also significantly benefits patients and healthcare professionals. Besides this, telehealth is set to boost the economy, too, especially in areas where much of the population is rural with inefficient access to quality healthcare.
Though the boom has slowed down slightly after the pandemic, industry experts believe that telehealth has significantly successful prospects for the future. The ease of access to quality care outweighs any potential drawbacks of this technology and makes telehealth a truly revolutionizing technique today.