A wide range of benefits motivate healthcare organizations to deploy telehealth technologies. These include cost efficiency, improved consumer access, and the ability to address provider shortages. Telehealth is a broad term, encompassing a variety of telecommunications technologies that allow for remote monitoring and education. This article will explore four distinct areas of telehealth: asynchronous (store-and-forward) telehealth, videoconferencing, remote monitoring, and mobile communication.
Telehealth Care allows consumers to access healthcare providers from anywhere with an internet connection. This can be a huge benefit to individuals who live in rural areas, work from home, or have transportation issues that prevent them from traveling long distances. It also reduces the cost and stress of travel for consumers with chronic conditions or those who are managing multiple health issues that require regular, ongoing appointments.
Many healthcare organizations use telehealth in their everyday operations to offer remote patient monitoring through wearable devices like blood pressure monitors or to communicate with patients through video conferencing (telemedicine). However, it’s important to remember that telehealth encompasses more than just clinical services.
It also encompasses health-related education services, such as a diabetes management course or mental healthcare through a virtual visit with a counselor. It also includes healthcare technology that facilitates communication between care teams, such as secure online portals and public health broadcast text messaging.
In addition, it can help address primary care physician shortages and specialty scarcity by connecting patients at smaller hospitals with specialists in larger regional facilities. Additionally, it can enable healthcare workers to connect and collaborate with their colleagues in the same building or across the country.
Consumer demand for telehealth is growing as more people recognize its benefits and convenience. Studies have shown that telehealth offers the same medical outcomes and consumer satisfaction as in-person visits, with several specialties, such as ICU care and mental health, offering even better results. Consumers also appreciate the ability to attend appointments from anywhere with an internet connection, which is particularly useful for those with chronic conditions or limited mobility and can eliminate expensive or impractical travel costs for at-risk patients.
Telehealth allows for remote monitoring of a patient’s health status from the comfort of their own homes. Patients are provided with the necessary equipment (such as a thermometer, blood pressure cuff, scale, portable ECG monitor with smartphone app, or point-of-care blood glucose device) along with training on how to properly use and collect this data. It is then shared with the practitioner during a telehealth visit, and the health care professional can make adjustments to a patient’s at-home regimen.
This remote monitoring capability can help reduce the need for costly in-person visits by ensuring that patients adhere to their treatment plans. This also helps to identify issues that would have gone unnoticed in a traditional office setting. For example, a patient with diabetes may not be checking their blood sugar regularly. The patient’s telehealth provider can remind them to take their insulin and provide other recommendations to help manage the condition.
In addition to helping to avoid unnecessary in-person visits, telehealth also has the ability to save lives during an emergency. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a patient who was experiencing symptoms could have called their telehealth provider for advice and guidance before they had to go to the hospital or contact an ambulance service. The telehealth professional could be able to determine that the patient did not need to go to the ER and instead call ahead to notify an ambulance or ED team of their observation, allowing them to arrive at the same time, potentially reducing the length of time the patient spends in an emergency room.
There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when planning for a telehealth program, including the per-unit cost of the telehealth equipment, software, and user licensing costs, as well as ongoing maintenance and repairs. These costs must be factored into any budget that is being created. Another issue that is often overlooked is the impact that telehealth will have on staffing and accountability. This includes determining how staff will be involved in the new process as well as making sure they have access to any necessary resources and support.
Telehealth care allows for education to take place, whether it’s training healthcare professionals or patients. Many colleges and universities now offer a variety of courses in telemedicine. These courses teach healthcare professionals how to properly use telehealth care and also provide students with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a virtual environment. This is important because the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a surge in telehealth utilization, and many medical schools have adopted telehealth into their curricula to prepare their students for the future of health care.
Some of these trainings are offered by telehealth companies, while others are offered by a variety of health care organizations. Some of these trainings cover topics like telehealth fundamentals, navigating the digital healthcare delivery ecosystem, and establishing a telehealth workflow. Other trainings may include a review of various types of telehealth equipment or an introduction to telehealth software and tools.
Trainings that teach communication skills are particularly useful to healthcare professionals who utilize telehealth services. These trainings help them identify non-verbal cues that may not be conveyed through audio, such as facial expressions and body language. They also help them understand how to interact with patients through a digital screen, which can be challenging for some people.
Although telehealth has grown in popularity, many healthcare professionals have not received formal education on the subject. This may be due to a lack of available resources or the time needed to incorporate telehealth into a curriculum. In a recent study, researchers found that only 13% of healthcare providers had received telehealth education. The study found that those who had received telehealth education were more likely to adopt the technology in their practices. However, the study did not find any correlation between the type of education or the frequency with which it was provided and the rate of adoption.
In response to this gap in education, the Weill Cornell Department of Emergency Medicine has partnered with the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University to develop a comprehensive interprofessional telehealth (IPT) course. The program will directly address a major gap in telehealth education: patient safety during a synchronous provider-to-patient telehealth encounter. The course will build upon qualitative analysis of interview data to describe a conceptual framework for appropriate telehealth use and escalation of care grounded in the experiences and current competence of practicing telehealth physicians. It will then use this data to develop a simulation-based curriculum and assessment tool for physician education at the UME, GME, and CME levels.
Telehealth uses communication technologies to help consumers connect with their medical providers. These communications can occur over the phone, through video chat, or through texting. Technology advances like mobile phones and the internet have created a window of opportunity to modernize the care delivery system. Health systems that come out ahead will embed telehealth in the care continuum at scale.
Nurses have a role to play in these advancements, and the COVID-19 pandemic has given them an ideal platform to do so. Many nurses have been using telehealth to help their patients during the pandemic by providing virtual visits. Virtual visits allow people to see a doctor, psychologist, or nurse without traveling. This allows them to get primary and urgent care without clogging up hospital and emergency room beds that can be used by virus victims.
In a virtual visit, the medical professional assesses the patient’s condition and determines if a trip to the emergency department or clinic is necessary. This also helps avoid unnecessary hospital admissions and enables people to stay home to rest and recover if they are sick. Nurses can be an important part of this assessment by observing the patient’s physical environment, checking for potential safety hazards, and looking for clues to mental health issues.
Other benefits of telehealth include reducing costs and improving access to care for rural communities and remote areas. It can also address physician shortages and specialist shortages by connecting patients at smaller local hospitals with specialists based at larger regional facilities.
One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that all patients can access telehealth. Many people do not have access to smartphones or adequate broadband internet service. To address this, it is important to reach out to underserved populations through telehealth outreach efforts. Some methods to do this are through community partnerships, leveraging existing resources, and encouraging patients to use their insurance coverage for telehealth services. It is also important for health care organizations to call patients ahead of a telehealth appointment to confirm they can participate. This gives the health care team a chance to check that they have the equipment and technology needed to join the telehealth visit, and it allows them to offer tips and advice on how to use the equipment.