Telehealth is a broad term encompassing the entirety of remote and technology-driven healthcare. Telecommunications technologies and services are used to provide clinical care and education services from a distance.
While telehealth has been around for several years, navigating the new influx of telehealth usage can be intimidating. How it works, why implement telehealth and the benefits of it are all questions to ask before implementing a telemedicine program hospital-wide. Altus created this complete guide to telehealth in 2024 to answer these questions and more.
What are Telehealth and Telemedicine?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”
Telemedicine falls into the same category as telehealth, but it focuses explicitly on remote clinical services.
This definition offers a lot of insight, but telehealth and telemedicine offer so much more than that. They have the potential to give accessible healthcare to everyone, no matter their location.
How Does Telehealth Work?
The main components of telehealth are equipment and connectivity. The equipment can entail a workstation built specifically for telehealth. These workstations are lightweight so they can be transported wherever they’re needed without adding strain to the clinician moving them. They also have specially made clamps to hold a tablet or a monitor to allow for easy virtual communication.
As for the connectivity component, a high internet speed and a strong connection are imperative. Clinicians have to be able to communicate with their patients, so they need reliable audio and visuals in order to conduct appointments online.
Telecommunication Methods of Communication
1. Live interactive services are where the patient visit is virtual using videoconferencing, and the communication is real-time. Included in this category are specialty services where live interactive elements are ideal. For example, dermatology, psychiatry, orthopedics, pain management, and endocrinology all work better when clinicians can communication and inspect the patient in real-time. Live interactions are also the ideal path for connecting patients with their friends and family while admitted or contagious.
2. Store and forward services are similar to email. Patients and providers send messages, photos, lab results, etc. to each other. This type of telehealth is ideal for when conversations do not need to take place in real-time, or when the patient is unable to block out time for a visit. The patient can send the information over when they have time, and the clinician can review it when they have time to give their full attention to it.
3. Remote Patient Monitoring is when caregivers monitor at-home patients who use monitoring equipment. The data is collected by the equipment, and clinicians are able to keep an eye on vital information such as blood pressure, heart rate, etc., all while their patient is in the comfort of their own home. This type also takes out the need for patients to travel into an office for a short check-up since the vitals can be monitored remotely.
Where is Telehealth Used?
Telehealth is commonly used for clinical services, home monitoring, educational programming, and administrative meetings. It can be used and accessed anywhere at any time. Clinicians are finding telehealth to be the easiest way to communicate with patients and other medical professionals, because it can be used instantly anywhere, as long as there is a stable internet connection.
The Need for Telehealth
With an increasingly aging population and a worldwide clinician shortage, telehealth can help overcome healthcare access barriers. It can also connect those patients that may be economically or medically vulnerable, or just don’t have access to quality care.
Implementing telehealthcare in hospitals does more than just connect patients to their providers, and overcome healthcare access barriers. It also can reduce time spent traveling from patient to patient, costs on the hospital and patient, remove possible language barriers, and any potential travel delays since everything is in a central location.
From an educational program standpoint, telehealth can bring together people from all over the world. Clinicians can virtually meet with other medical professionals in specific fields to get advice and recommendations. No longer do colleagues need to be in the same building, telehealth can host administrative meetings. Many hospitals are even opting for telehealth equipment, such as tablet carts, so they can wheel the cart in during surgery for additional consultations from experts around the world.
The Benefits of Telehealth
Not only does telehealth reduce barriers to healthcare access, but it increases efficiency for healthcare providers. Patients can provide self-reported vitals through telehealth, and clinicians no longer need to travel to patients reducing delays and costs.
Patient satisfaction and health outcomes are bettered. Receiving care in the comfort of their own home is becoming the new norm and patients are found to prefer it. The quality of care is further improved by providers consulting with other providers and ongoing educational opportunities.
Telehealth During a Public Health Crisis
Telehealth can play a critical role in the delivery of care when an infectious disease outbreak occurs. It provides options for remote accessibility, so hospitals can continue to run while keeping patients and clinicians healthy. It keeps sick patients with easily communicable infections at home so they’re comfortable, but it also allows any patients who are worried about a potential infection to stay where they feel most comfortable. In addition to catering to patients during a public health crisis, telehealth can prevent care gaps as hospitals become busier.
Expanding Telehealth to Fight COVID-19
To reduce the risk of exposure during the COVID-19 health crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged hospitals to utilize alternatives to in-person visits. They encouraged using patient portals, interacting over the telephone, and setting up telehealth virtual appointments when possible.
Because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Medicare Telehealth Expansion for Public Health Emergencies was created. It has changed telehealth requirements for patients and providers to remove barriers to using these vital services more efficiently during the pandemic. Under the new rules, providers can use non-public-facing communication apps such as Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and FaceTime for telehealth appointments.
Since telehealth has experienced such a large increase in usage, there are reimbursement programs available for those who use telehealth. Insurance providers such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Blue Cross Blue Shield offer reimbursement for most services and even have programs in place to encourage the use of telehealth.
Not having to worry about the cost of a visit, makes telehealth a more appealing option to both providers and patients alike.
Telehealth is a tool that a wide variety of practices can use. It offers a means to transform healthcare as a whole, and completely change the way patients think of healthcare. Using telemedicine equipment can also help the implementation and patient experience surrounding telehealth. Altus specializes in creating workstations for telehealth and can help pick the right one for any hospital. Contact us to learn more.