What is telehealth, and how does it work?
With the increasing technology climate, many healthcare workers are beginning to hear more and more about telehealth and telemedicine - and so, what exactly is telehealth? And how does telemedicine work?
Telehealth refers to the broad scope of healthcare services offered via distance and through online and digital technologies. This could be inclusive of non-clinical and clinical environments, and it provides the means for healthcare professionals to connect with clients in a safe and accessible online space. This may also mean virtual training may be provided for healthcare workers, and it may provide a space for administrative and support meetings and other educational services.
Telemedicine refers to a smaller subset of telehealth and specifically concerns remote clinical services involving online video calls, messaging, and conferencing services with patients and clientele. It provides a secure space for healthcare professionals to communicate with clients and is a standard route for supporting clients with online therapy. It is a technology form that offers immense benefits for the mental healthcare space and allows clients to receive treatment from their homes comfortably.
Why is telehealth important in healthcare?
Telehealth is vital to areas of healthcare in providing an accessible, convenient, and secure way for clients to receive healthcare services and treatment. The use of telemedicine, inclusive of software for healthcare teams, offers a variety of significant features for healthcare professionals involved in the space.
- Telehealth provides a route for isolated individuals and communities to access mental healthcare services such as video therapy and counseling
- It has revolutionized how mental healthcare services are presented and communicated to providers, and for many patients, it has become the sole source of healthcare services
- Online mental healthcare services are just as effective as in-person
- It provides a safe way to store patient information, documents, measurements, and evaluations
- Provides a high responsibility of care with online coordination between clinicians and patients
- Eliminates the risk of spread in the COVID-19 for healthcare professionals and workers
- Provides convenience for clients to receive services from any place and time
- It helps to conserve medical personnel, equipment, and space where needed in healthcare facilitates
What are the four modalities of telehealth?
There are four core components of telehealth that you should be aware of in order to select what is best for your clinic, and the resources you have. Each presents its own unique benefits and can elevate the quality of your clinic.
Real-time telehealth, otherwise known as synchronous telemedicine, requires live contact between healthcare practitioners and their patients. Through either audio or video communication, real-time presents a viable alternative to in-person meetings. All that is required to view patients from the comfort of their own homes is a camera and a microphone, which also makes it super easy! It’s the closest way to emulate standard doctor-patient visits and can be beneficial for those who suffer from weakening health conditions such as:
- Heart disease
This is also in addition for mental health patients, who may find it difficult coming in person to receive help. The great thing about real-time, is that any patient needing to receive healthcare can access it at any time and from any place, which is especially useful for those in isolated or rural areas. Patients can save time and money, and receive immediate care whenever needed. Physical distancing is also not an issue, with patients being able to receive care without worry.
Store and Forward
This sort of telemedicine, also known as asynchronous telemedicine, allows healthcare practitioners to share critical medical information and data with other external providers. This can include transmitting lab results, photos, and medical documents by email or sharing information over the phone. Because data can be transferred at any time, interprofessional medical services can reap enormous benefits from its use. For example, if a health practitioner needs to exchange x-rays with another specialist within an outside organization, they can easily send results through encrypted emails or clinical exchange programs.
As a result, this form of telemedicine can be extremely beneficial, and it can reduce wait times, as well as encourage quicker and more accurate diagnoses. It’s able to collect valuable demographic data, medical records, and electronic forms, and enable instant access to data that could cut extraneous amounts of time for patients. There’s no need to schedule one-on-one consultations to discuss medical data, with the information able to be quickly and securely transmitted through encrypted transmissions.
Remote patient monitoring
Telemedicine can effectively follow patients' vital signs and monitor those who are at risk with minimal effort. Remote patient monitoring, often known as home telehealth or telemonitoring, allows clients to measure their own levels, as well as transmit data so practitioners can keep an eye out for any abnormal readings. This can be through a variety of wearable or non-wearable devices such as smart watches, digital scales, blood pressure cuffs, as well as glucose monitors. It’s an excellent way to utilize technology to accurately track daily activity, and increase clinical outcomes.
Using the information from these devices, applications, software, and platforms, healthcare practitioners can pull valuable insights, and monitor patient levels no matter their location. This can contribute toward more accurate diagnoses, and thus, raise clinical outcomes levels, which is always welcome. Additionally, it also imparts some sense of self-management to clients and empowers patients to have a more active role in their healthcare journey.
As the final core tenet of telehealth, and perhaps becoming the most common, mobile health allows patients and practitioners to access valuable telehealth information all from one place. With the right software platform, physicians can conduct video consultations, and connect with clients from the comfort of their own home. In addition to video calls, practitioners can also use messaging services to answer any queries, concerns, or questions that patients may have in between sessions. It’s convenient, easy to use, and can work to strengthen professional relationships out of the office.
Mobile health is also great for online payments, with most platforms offering a variety of card options. Generating invoices and following up on outstanding payments has never been easier, with many patients being able to swiftly pay before their session with practitioners. Encryption services also work to protect all patient and financial data, which makes for great storage of clinical notes, documents, files, results, and diagnoses, in addition to finances.
What are the applications of telehealth services?
There are multiple answers to the question, what is telemedicine in healthcare? Not only is it a way for clients and patients to communicate effectively from the comfort of their homes, but the use of telemedicine utilizes innovative technologies to provide a combination of practical tools for your practice. On the client end, patients can view their documents, measurements, evaluations, and tests in one place, in addition to their private data. Telehealth services provide clients with the ability to video conference, message, and call for assistance and have online appointments with virtual reminders to ensure high engagement of the service. It means that clients can effectively use a singular platform to access all their healthcare needs. As for clinicians, telehealth services provide a way for all essential information to be compiled in one place. Telehealth services are commonly designed for organizational purposes, so healthcare professionals can view client notes,receive payments, and communicate at their convenience—all while ensuring high-quality service that meets user needs, preferences, and goals.
How is telehealth used in healthcare?
Technology meets healthcare through telehealth
A common question is how telehealth is used in healthcare? And to answer that, there are a variety of uses for telehealth across healthcare disciplines. Telehealth may be used as an appointment system, where clinicians and clients can meet virtually to communicate, where therapy can be provided in addition to testing and other evaluations. Patients can have vital indicators monitored, such as blood pressure, blood glucose, heart rate, sleeping patterns, and physical activity if needed.
On the technical side, there are various uses for telehealth, such as scheduling and booking appointments. Many telehealth services provide a patient portal, where patients can request and review reminders, tests, and results, and view booked appointments. This allows patients to view private information that may be shared and allows for private communication with a doctor or nurse that is more secure than email. Clients and clinicians can have access to their health records located within the electronic system to understand the whereabouts of information better and have peace of mind that accurate data is secure. Doctors may use telehealth systems to communicate with other doctors and specialists on x-ray consults, exam notes, and test results.
Telehealth may also be used in healthcare through apps, which encompass a variety of features. This can range from caloric intake, reminders for medication control, physical activity recordings such as daily step count, and other various storage of health information. This provides a convenient way to view and access data useful to clinicians and doctors and enables patients to be involved on the accountability side of things.
How is telehealth taking modern healthcare to the next level?
Due to its widespread use, especially during the global COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth quickly transforms how healthcare services are communicated to patients. Telehealth is now providing expertise to both healthcare professionals and patients and working together with in-person practitioners who require online data to make accurate evaluations. Telehealth also helps assist those in vulnerable communities with limited access to in-person healthcare or isolated individuals who find difficulty in being able to use face-to-face services. In comparison to these, telehealth is also relatively inexpensive, as advances in technology see a reduced need for in-person visits when some healthcare measurements can be assessed in apps. Essentially, telehealth is changing modern healthcare by maximizing and increasing access to healthcare services. It has seamless ease of convenience and accessibility, and its use can significantly alleviate immediate issues.
Telehealth for addiction
Treatment for substance abuse necessitates frequent check-ins and contact via a variety of media. As a result, telehealth technology features can make it significantly easier for clients battling addiction issues to communicate with their therapist or health professional.
With video conferencing and messaging services, addiction patients can be better supported and more closely monitored with increased connectivity. Checking in regularly with emails, texts, calls, or casual chats, can work to strengthen professional relationships and promote proactivity. Using telehealth can significantly increase results, as well as allow patients to retake control of their life and increase overall happiness and clinical outcomes.
Telehealth for behavioral and mental health
Telehealth is also a great option for behavioral health services, as it allows for frequent check-ins with video and messaging consultations, and can provide access to many clients. Regardless of their location, clients can access care with counselors and therapists, and receive the exact quality of care as they would for in-person sessions.
Considering that around 43.8 million Americans suffer from mental illness, and only 40% obtain appropriate mental health treatment, telehealth can work to reduce these numbers. It alleviates many geographical and anonymous constraints that can impede patients ability to access the right behavioral health therapy.
How is telehealth beneficial to patients and healthcare providers?
In case you aren’t sold, let us summarize the ways in which telehealth is beneficial to both patients and healthcare providers.
Telehealth benefits for patients
There are multiple benefits for patients, including the following:
Reduced cost: Telehealth can eliminate transportation fees, childcare charges, as well as costs associated with time away from work. Patients can obtain quality treatment without compromising and having to break the bank for it.
Greater access: With increasing shortages and rising rural populations, it's critical that these patients have access, with telehealth serving as a perfect solution. Because of the virtual component, patients who live distant from large metropolitan areas no longer have to travel to office visits for specialized care or to meet routine appointments.
Stronger connections: Healthcare practitioners can connect with their patients on a regular basis, as opposed to having to join waiting lists and wait for appointments with large spacing. Practitioners can shoot a message to check in on patients, or follow up appointments, and ensure they are on track with their medical goals.
Improved quality of care: With increased communication, and more easily transmissible documents, it’s no secret that using telehealth can significantly elevate the quality of care. Patients can receive the same level of care, if not greater, with clinical outcomes increased through telehealth technologies.
Telehealth benefits for healthcare providers
Healthcare providers are also able to reap rich benefits from using telehealth technology, including the following factors:
Increased efficiency: Telehealth can work to optimize processes and streamline efficiency across different business operations. Using automated messaging, in addition to extensive patient databases, clinical storage, appointment reminders, and virtual consultation features all help clinicians to use their time more efficiently and have a wider reach amongst clients.
Fewer costs: Telehealth systems provide a one-stop shop for managing all your healthcare information and data, meaning you can cut out expensive overhead costs. Telehealth systems are much cheaper than traditional healthcare systems, and can help you save up to 60%!
Greater scalability: You can easily keep up with your business operations, no matter how many patients you have. As you grow your healthcare services and take on more clients, you can utilize telehealth to continue automating activities and streamlining tasks, often at no additional cost!
Increased revenue: Naturally, as telehealth lowers costs, you’ll see your revenue begin to increase. You can significantly boost the earnings of your practice, see greater profit, and use this disposable income on developing and investing in other business areas.
What is the future of telehealth?
Telehealth is revolutionizing the way healthcare services are offered and communicated to both patients and clinicians. Due to its advanced technologies and innovative business processes, telehealth services now present various significant features relevant to how practices are run and how clients can receive treatment. Mainly during COVID-19, which poses many physical obstacles, telehealth provides a means for clients and patients to communicate without the risk of spread. Not only this, but telehealth supports clients with the ability to receive treatment from the comfort and ease of their homes, all at a low cost.
Telehealth means healthcare professionals can reach a wider clientele, with virtual communication transcending the barrier of isolated individuals and communities not previously achieved. Clinicians and specialists can still feel they are making a difference with telehealth by providing the same efficacy benefits as face-to-face appointments and having a seamless interface that is easy to use. Never before has telehealthcare services been so smooth to integrate across practices and have a high potential to be the way of the future for healthcare providers.
FAQs about Telehealth
If any concerns have arisen while reading this article, hopefully, the answers can be found here through our most commonly asked questions.
Which one is better - call or video?
If you have difficulty getting to your appointment or don’t have much time on your hands, you may be interested in a phone or video appointment.
A cell phone or landline is required for a phone appointment, and this option serves as a great way to clarify small matters or queries.
However, video may be best for more extensive health evaluations. A stable internet connection and a smartphone, tablet, or laptop computer are required for a video appointment. If you are not comfortable with computers, a caregiver or family may be able to assist you - or consult an online help desk service.
Are telehealth platforms secure?
Telehealth platforms are perfectly safe, given that they follow HIPAA guidelines and regulations. All applications should specify the security measures they implement, and if you’re unsure, it’s better to be safe than sorry and consider an alternative.
Because phone and video sessions are conducted through your device, you play an important part in keeping yourself secure online. To avoid security difficulties, shut any other programs or windows on your device before and during the session. Otherwise, HIPAA ensures that the same levels of privacy apply to telephone and video appointments as they normally would for face-to-face appointments.
What happens if there is a technical issue?
When using telehealth technology, it’s perfectly normal for difficulties to occur. In fact, you should be prepared for them! You or your patient’s network may be slow, laggy, or have sound delays, which can also cause frozen screens.
A decent connection and equipment are helpful, but there may not be much you can do to improve this. In general, some telephone and video appointments may be less fluent than face-to-face ones, with clarification or repetition needed more frequently. If worst comes to worst, don’t be afraid to personally message the client and reschedule - but make sure to keep your patient in the loop!
How do I set up my space for appointments?
Great question! There are a multitude of things you can do to elevate the aesthetic of your background, including the following:
- Use natural lighting
- Avoid shadows
- Use light decor
- Check all camera and microphone equipment before starting or joining a session
- Elevate your camera so you’re in view and not on a shaky surface
- Reverse your camera to check your view through the clinician/patient’s eyes
Remember that first impression can contribute to the perceived quality of your service.
What about follow-up?
This can vary from practitioner to practitioner, but it’s ideal to send an email or message with any ‘homework’ required from the client before your next session (such as physical exercises, and breathing techniques). This can recap your appointment, and prevent the patient from forgetting valuable details. Sometimes all that is needed is a quick message, however, whichever option you choose, make sure to be prompt and let the patient know before the session ends how you’ll get in touch.