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What Is Telehealth, Exactly?

May 9

Telehealth refers to the use of remote technology to offer health treatment, education, and information. Learn about telehealth services, technology, and reimbursement concerns.

Telehealth is described as the use of telecommunications and digital communication technologies to offer and facilitate health and health-related services such as medical treatment, provider and patient education, health information services, and self-care. Telehealth technologies include live video conferencing, Telehealth Mobile health applications, "save and forward" electronic transmission, and remote patient monitoring (RPM).

Telemedicine and Telehealth

Although the words telehealth and telemedicine are sometimes interchanged, telehealth now encompasses a larger range of digital healthcare activities and services. To comprehend the relationship between telehealth and telemedicine, it is necessary to first define telemedicine.

What is Telemedicine and how does it work?

"The remote diagnosis and treatment of patients using telecommunications technology," according to the Oxford definition of telemedicine. Telemedicine is the use of technology and communications networks to deliver healthcare to patients who are geographically distant from their doctors. A radiologist, for example, may analyze and interpret imaging data for a patient in a distant county whose hospital presently lacks a radiologist. For a non-life-threatening ailment, a physician may provide an urgent-care consultation by video.

Whereas telemedicine refers to the practice of medicine through the internet, telehealth is a broad word that encompasses all aspects and activities of healthcare and the healthcare system that use telecommunications technology. Telehealth activities and uses that go beyond remote clinical treatment include healthcare education, wearable devices that record and transmit vital signs, and provider-to-provider remote communication.

Telemedicine Technology

mHealth (or mobile health), video and audio technology, digital photography, remote patient monitoring (RPM), and store and forward technologies are all being used for telehealth.

Telehealth using Smartphones and Tablets (mHealth)

Cell phones are now owned by 95 percent of Americans, while smartphones are owned by 77 percent. These and other mobile devices may be used to improve health outcomes and provide more access to treatment. Patients employ mHealth, or mobile health, apps and services on their smartphones, tablets, and computers. Patients may use these apps to monitor their health, schedule medication and appointment reminders, and communicate information with their doctors. Users may choose from hundreds of mHealth apps, including aids for managing asthma and diabetes, as well as weight reduction and smoking cessation apps. Users may also plan appointments and connect with providers through video conference and text messaging on their mobile devices.

Wyoming Medicaid sponsored a research to assess patient participation and post-birth outcomes for those who utilized the "Due Date Plus" mobile health app. The app, which enabled women to track pregnancy milestones, contact medical services, and look up symptom-related information, was linked to better prenatal care compliance and fewer infants delivered with low birth weights.

Telehealth uses video conferencing, videoscopes, and high-resolution cameras

Clinicians are overcoming distance and offering access to patients who are unable to travel by using real-time video communication systems to schedule visits. For a long time, video conferencing technology has been used to deliver treatment to convicts, military people, and patients in remote areas. In addition, providers of both treatment and funding, such as Kaiser Permanente, the Defense Department, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, have used telehealth modalities to improve access to healthcare services and improve care quality. Another example is the use of video scopes and high-resolution cameras by the South Carolina Department of Corrections and the Medical University of South Carolina to diagnose and treat offenders remotely. They are also adopting video/audio communication software to conduct virtual appointments in order to decrease prisoner transportation expenses and improve safety by keeping prisoners in and providers out of correctional institutions.

Patient Monitoring from afar (RPM)

The reporting, gathering, transmission, and assessment of patient health data through electronic devices such as wearables, mobile devices, smartphone applications, and internet-enabled PCs is known as remote patient monitoring. Patients are reminded to weigh themselves via RPM technologies, which then send the information to their doctors. Blood pressures, cardiac stats, oxygen levels, and respiration rates are all collected and sent via wearables and other electronic monitoring equipment.

Blood glucose levels are also being tracked and reported to patients and doctors using devices. Apple is studying whether the Apple Watch can identify abnormal cardiac rhythms in collaboration with Stanford, while AliveCor's KardiaBand enables Apple Watch users to do electrocardiograms in 30 seconds that can be quickly communicated to doctors. Patients often miss appointments with their doctors for months. Prior to in-person meetings, RPM may help spot issues sooner and identify people who require medical treatment. Furthermore, chronic illnesses may be handled more easily and effectively, resulting in better treatment and results as well as lower costs.

Patients whose implantation included remote monitoring capabilities had a greater likelihood of survival than those who did not, according to a 2015 Cardiac Implantable Electronic Device (CIED) research. Patients who participated in RPM were also less likely to have hospital stays, had fewer ED and urgent-care visits, and reported improved symptom management, according to the Center for Technology and Aging. They also reported enhanced physical stamina, general patient happiness, and emotional well-being.

Backwards and Forwards

The collection, storage, and transfer of patient health information for asynchronous healthcare delivery utilizing data storage and transmission technologies is referred to as store and forward telehealth. Patients' CAT scans, MRIs, X-rays, pictures, videos, and text-based patient data are collected and delivered to experts and other members of a care team for evaluation and treatment. Secure servers and routers are used in store and forward telemedicine to temporarily store incoming packets of data before routing it to the appropriate end users. Store and send telehealth is also done via secure email services.

Telehealth Applications and Services

People naturally want to use telehealth technology to enhance treatment, provide convenience, encourage access, and support sustainability since the internet and mobile devices increasingly saturate our lives. Consultations and video conferencing mental health sessions are among the telehealth options available, as are public health broadcast text messaging and on-demand provider education.