Telehealth Solutions Expand the Scope of Care
Telehealth Care solutions empower healthcare teams to deliver whole-person care. Large healthcare systems and small independent practices alike use real-time video conferencing (telemedicine) and remote patient monitoring to expand the scope of care that patients receive.
Mobile devices are often the front-end for telehealth appointments with patients. These may be smartphones, tablets, or other hand-held devices that patients use to communicate with their health care providers from home, work, or a medical office. Or, a healthcare professional uses them to communicate with a patient at a remote location, such as during a home visit or an outpatient surgery.
Whether used for videoconferencing mental health sessions or remote patient monitoring (RPM), mobile devices are the key to providing patients with easy access to telehealth care. They make it possible for even the most rural patients to talk with their doctors without leaving home.
In addition, they help patients with chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes monitor their condition from anywhere they have a stable internet connection. This allows patients to follow their doctor’s instructions and stay healthy instead of having to drive into the clinic each day.
It also makes it easier for patients to attend support groups, seminars, or other beneficial programs that they would normally have to travel to in person. This is particularly useful for patients in remote areas where the cost and time of commuting can be prohibitive.
Another major benefit of telehealth is that it can bridge the gap between primary care physicians and specialists. This helps alleviate physician shortages and geographic restrictions by allowing PCPs to refer patients to specialty services at distant hospitals. This is especially helpful for rural patients who may have to travel over an hour each way to receive treatment in a large city.
While there are many benefits to telehealth, significant barriers limit its wider adoption. Some of the most common include limited access to broadband service and concerns about reimbursement and cross-state licensing. However, these hurdles can be overcome with proper planning and implementation. The best approach to telehealth is to begin with small pilot projects and work from there. To maximize the impact of a new program, healthcare organizations should provide adequate training for all staff members and develop policies and procedures to ensure compliance and safety.
Videoconferencing is one of the most popular telehealth tools. It allows a patient to connect with their primary care physician to discuss symptoms or other health issues over a webcam, tablet, or smartphone. The technology is commonly used by patients to visit a specialist, such as an oncologist or cardiologist, to talk about their health. It also helped many patients stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is more personal and engaging than a phone call, especially when it includes a screen to share information or a live face-to-face meeting. It’s a great tool for businesses with remote workers, offices in multiple locations, or teams of professionals who travel often. It also allows for more collaboration with clients and customers and can be as informal or as structured as you need it to be.
Clinicians are using telehealth to conquer the distance and connect with hard-to-reach populations, including prisoners and rural communities. In addition, PCPs are utilizing telehealth technologies to communicate with specialists and promote access for their patients in rural areas. It is helping address the nationwide shortage of physicians and specialists.
A big obstacle to the growth of telehealth is the limitation on insurance reimbursement. Medicare currently restricts telehealth visits to rural areas or specific settings (like hospitals or physician’s offices) and only covers real-time, two-way video conference capabilities. However, the telehealth landscape is changing quickly as more providers adopt these tools and insurers expand their coverage of telehealth services. It is expected that the majority of insurers will offer telehealth benefits for at least some services by 2020.
Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)
RPM uses telehealth technology to help patients manage their healthcare outside of hospital and clinic settings. Typically, these programs involve a variety of remote monitoring devices, like glucose monitors and digital blood pressure monitors. These devices are often paired with mobile apps and software that allow patients to easily send this data to their physicians.
RPM solutions can be a great way to reduce the frequency and duration of inpatient stays as well as prevent readmissions by monitoring health conditions at home, which may help reduce costs for both the patient and the provider. However, a key consideration is that the implementation of a remote patient monitoring solution will require a significant upfront investment. The number of devices, clinical providers, and information technology resources required will all impact the size and cost of the initial setup and ongoing costs for the program.
In addition to requiring a substantial upfront investment, RPM can also be a challenge for providers because of the need for FDA medical device approvals and compliance with healthcare standards. These requirements can delay the time to market for these technologies as well as increase development and deployment costs due to the re-engineering efforts required to support them.
Another concern is that some RPM devices may pose a security risk to patients. This is especially true when these devices rely on advanced artificial intelligence (AI) or natural language processing capabilities. While most platforms feature high levels of encryption and meet HIPAA standards, these systems can still be vulnerable to cyber liability risks.
Despite these challenges, RPM is a valuable tool for improving connectivity and providing healthcare outside of traditional offices and clinics. It can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, including COVID-19, and can help reduce the burden on healthcare systems by freeing up space for patients who are too sick to travel or visit their doctors in person.
With this increased capacity, physicians can provide better quality of care to their patients and improve their overall quality of life. This can be especially beneficial when hospitals are overcrowded and doctors feel they need to rush through appointments and do not have enough time to focus on each individual patient.
The use of chat-based interactions allows health services to be delivered at a scale that is more personal and scalable than traditional phone, video, or other telehealth modalities. Conversational agents can be used to support healthcare professionals or patients in a number of ways, from scheduling clinical appointments to sending medication reminders to providing health service information and support, triaging symptoms, and even following up with a patient after a healthcare professional consultation. The ability to interact asynchronously also allows these agents to be integrated with widely used communication platforms such as text messaging, social media, and email.
The most powerful driver for the adoption of telehealth technologies is consumer demand. Studies have consistently demonstrated that consumers who utilize telehealth services report high satisfaction and the benefits of these interactions. In particular, telehealth reduces travel time and stress for consumers, allows access to providers that would not otherwise be available in a distant location, and provides care that can be just as good or better than in-person care.
Cost efficiencies are another key driver for the adoption of telehealth services. These include reducing or containing the costs associated with medical and nursing home visits, shared health professional staffing and care delivery, reduced ER readmission rates, reduced hospital stays, and reduced physician and patient travel expenses.
asynchronous online or mobile app communications that transmit a patient’s personal data, vital signs, and other physiologic data or diagnostic images to a healthcare provider for consultation using store and forward telemedicine. This type of telehealth is often referred to as “eHealth,” “asynchronous telehealth,” or “remote patient monitoring.”
The asynchronous nature of eHealth makes it particularly suitable for mobile devices. The ability to provide health interventions through a familiar communication platform, such as a text messaging application, has the potential to increase intervention acceptability and improve uptake for stigmatized health topics. This has been shown for a mental health chatbot called Tabatha-YYC, developed through user testing with sexual and gendered minority youth (ages 16–24) at risk of HIV and other STIs with poor mental health resulting from higher levels of stigma, discrimination, and social isolation.