By Piyush Jain, founder and CEO, Simpalm.
Telehealth is the delivery of health education, health information services, and healthcare services using remote technologies like telecommunication and digital communication. It has long been around in the healthcare industry.
However, previously providers hesitated in embracing the potential of it because of the low revenue and costly infrastructure needed to set it up. Nonetheless, the COVID-19 pandemic completely transformed that scenario. Caregivers were compelled to adopt telehealth technologies for their own safety and follow social distancing norms.
Since the pandemic, telehealth services have gained tremendous momentum, particularly for the following reasons:
- Virtual visits are safe because they lower the risk of spreading the virus.
- Telehealth enables those who are vulnerable to the virus (elderly citizens and those with a compromised immune system) to continue receiving medical services safely without physical visits.
- Medicare allows payments for telehealth services during COVID-19 for beneficiaries even if they are at their homes.
However, one must not confuse telehealth with a phone consultation. Telehealth is different as it incorporates many facilities for better delivery of healthcare to patients remotely, like,
- Visualization of the patients to assess whether ill enough to need face-to-face and determine the best place for care.
- Visualization of reports such as X-ray reports, blood sugar, blood glucose levels, and more.
Synchronous is referred to as the telehealth services that include real-time telephone or live audio and video interaction with patients using smartphones, tablets, or computers. In many cases, medical equipment such as an otoscope, digital stethoscope, ultrasound, and more can be used physically by other caregivers such as nurses and medical assistants, while the preferred healthcare professional conducts a remote evaluation.
This is based on “Store and Forward” technology where data such as messages and images are collected at a particular point in time then interpreted and responded to, later. This kind of communication between patient and provider can be facilitated by the patient portal through secure messaging.
Benefits of using telehealth services for both caregivers and patients
There are several benefits associated with the use of telehealth technologies. These services can be safer for both caregivers and patients as it reduces potential infectious exposures. It can help the healthcare system to operate efficiently by reducing patient demands for facilities and by reducing the use of PPE by caregivers. Saving time and resources enables healthcare systems to provide services efficiently at scale. Remote access to healthcare can also help to retain the patient-caregiver relationship when an in-patient visit is not feasible.
Telehealth can be used in many ways such as:
- Screening patients with symptoms of COVID-19 and referring as required.
- Reaching out to primary care providers and specialists including mental and behavioral health for chronic health conditions and medication management.
- Providing coaching and support for patients to manage chronic health conditions including weight management and nutrition counseling.
- Participating in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and other modalities.
- Tracking critical signs of certain chronic medical conditions such as blood sugar, blood glucose, and more.
- Handling case management for those who have difficulties in accessing healthcare. For example, those who live in rural settings, those with limited mobility, and older adults.
- Following up with patients who are discharged after hospitalization without asking them for in-person visits.
- Providing training and guidance to caregivers who are not locally available (particularly in rural areas) through peer-to-peer professional medical consultation.
Embracing the potential of telehealth to fight against COVID-19 is well underway. Health departments across the US are urging people with symptoms to make use of digital platforms to consult their medical professional instead of heading to an urgent care facility. This lets doctors better determine if the patients are sick with coronavirus and whether they need testing.
Furthermore, the center for health Control and the World Health Organization (WHO) are both encouraging people to use telemedicine options. There are several telehealth platforms such as Teladoc, MeMD, iCliniq, Amwell, Doctor on Demand, Virtuwell, and more. Many hospitals offer virtual clinics as well. The benefit of calling ahead and going online is that it keeps people who are sick from illness, be it the flu, a cold, or the coronavirus.
It can give physicians and nurses more time to devote to those with severe symptoms. A new form of telemedicine is being developed and tested in Silicon Valley, the idea of this online platform is to determine eligible people for tests and direct those to a mobile testing site. The coronavirus encouraged more people towards telehealth technologies as a result most hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities are free to attend to those who need it the most.