Getting sick once meant traveling to a physician’s office only to sit in a waiting room with fellow under-the-weather individuals. Few if any people like leaving home when they’re feeling ill, and thanks to technology, many no longer need to do so.
Telehealth services, which the Massachusetts Medical Society defines as the delivery and facilitation of health and health-related services including medical care, provider and patient education, health information services, and self-care via telecommunications and digital communication technologies, are revolutionizing the healthcare industry. In many instances, patients need not leave the comfort of their beds or sofas to be diagnosed and treated. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology says telehealth, which is a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine, can utilize everything from videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless phone communications.
Many providers and insurance companies now offer some method of telehealth services. Consider some of these statistics.
• The American Telemedicine Association says more than one-half of all hospitals in the United States have a telehealth program.
• Forty-eight states require payers to cover telehealth, says the Center for Connected Health Policy.
• BBC Research indicates that telehealth makes up roughly one-quarter of the healthcare-related technology market.
• The American Medical Association says nearly 75 percent of all doctor, urgent care and emergency room visits could be handled safely and effectively over the phone or via video.
• Beckers Hospital Review says 82 percent of millennial patients surveyed would rather have a telemedicine visit than an in-person consultation.
• Around seven million people use telehealth services across the globe, according to eVisit.
Telehealth can connect rural providers and their patients to services at other sites and promote patient-centered health care. With a shortage of some medical specialities in rural areas, telehealth can play an important role in ensuring all patients get access to care they need. But the benefits do not only extend to rural patients. Individuals who are elderly and/or those who have mobility issues and cannot travel easily can benefit from telehealth services. Furthermore, any patient with a rare condition may no longer have to travel long distances to consult with specialists in that field.
Telehealth applications and programs on smartphones, tablets or laptops can make it easy for people to monitor their health. These apps can enable patients to do things like track health measurements, share information with clinicians, manage chronic illnesses, and set medication or appointment reminders. Patients also can communicate with providers to get health information through patient portals or to refill prescriptions effortlessly.
Telehealth is changing the face of medicine and utilizing technology in unique ways.