July 18, 2022

What Is Telehealth - An Overview of Telehealth Technology

Key Takeaways

  • Telehealth enables patients to connect with healthcare professionals through online communication.
  • Telemedicine is a subcategory of telehealth and refers to healthcare consultations - both physician and mental health - and patient education, provided at a distance. 
  • Telehealth encompasses four main types of services: Real-time videoconferencing and telecommunications, store-and-forward, remote patient monitoring, and mobile health.
  • An aspect of mobile health involves at-home collection of blood, urine, and tissue samples for analysis in a laboratory.

No other technology solutions supported healthcare providers and patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic than telehealth and telemedicine. In fact, there were nearly one billion telehealth visits in 2020 alone. Even now, telehealth utilization is still 38X higher than pre-pandemic levels. 

However, despite the surge in telehealth adoption, there are still questions and misconceptions surrounding telehealth and telemedicine. In this article, we will discuss the definitions of telehealth and telemedicine, their advantages, and the challenges they face in the future. 

What Is Telehealth?

Telehealth presents an exciting new development in today’s healthcare. It enables patients to connect with healthcare professionals through online communication. It was shown to be particularly useful during the recent COVID-19 pandemic when social distancing was an important factor in reducing infection rates.

Telehealth is also beneficial for people who, due to mental or physical health conditions, cannot leave their homes, and those who live in rural areas with minimal access to local healthcare. 

Telehealth vs. Telemedicine

Some people use the two terms interchangeably, but there are some differences. 

  • Telehealth: This refers to the use of electronic and mobile technologies to provide healthcare services at a distance. This term is used in the broadest sense for all aspects of these uses of technology.
  • Telemedicine: Telemedicine is a subcategory of telehealth and refers in particular to healthcare consultations — both physical and mental health — and patient education, provided at a distance.

Why Is Telehealth Technology Important in Healthcare?

Telehealth technology is important in healthcare because it has the following benefits for patients and primary care physicians:

  • Increased access to quality care: Wherever patients are, they can access online medical advice with a virtual visit, even if they live in rural communities or are unable to leave their homes. 
  • No need to take time off work: Appointments can be scheduled to fit around the patient’s work schedule. So you can book a video visit during a break, or after work.
  • Eliminate the chance of infection: Because patients do not have to spend time in a waiting room, they avoid the risk of catching a new illness from another patient or passing their illness on to someone else. This is particularly important for people with chronic conditions. 
  • Reduced healthcare costs: Not only can telemedicine improve the efficiency of medical care delivery, but it can also reduce expenses. This is because there is no need to transport patients from one location to another, and it can often keep patients out of the hospital. This benefits patients using Medicaid as well as other health insurance payers.
  • Improved patient engagement and satisfaction: Because of its easy access, telemedicine makes it more convenient for users to maintain good health by staying engaged in healthy habits. Many patients prefer the flexibility and expediency of having real-time healthcare and being able to access all their health information via their patient portal. 
  • Increased provider satisfaction: These are challenging and often stressful times for healthcare providers. Telemedicine can ease stress and increase job satisfaction by facilitating patient conferencing and the delivery of healthcare and allowing patient data to be easily shared with the whole care team. These communication technologies can also help providers balance their work and family lives more easily. 

For healthcare providers who wish to learn more about the future of telehealth, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has an Office for the Advancement of Telehealth. The office provides many resources related to technology in the healthcare system, how health organizations can use it, and information technology that is available to help facilitate telehealth visits.

Types of Telehealth

Telehealth encompasses four main types of services including:

Real-time Videoconferencing and Telecommunications

This is currently the most well-known and widely used form of telehealth. As its name suggests, it refers to a real-time, two-way video meeting between a patient and a healthcare provider. This type of telehealth can be used widely in all aspects of medicine and from physicians based in hospitals to doctors who run private practices. 

Store-and-forward

Also known as asynchronous video, store and forward entails the electronic delivery of a patient’s medical records outside of real-time, so the patient’s medical history can be referred to by a doctor.  

  

Remote Patient Monitoring

Remote patient monitoring involves collecting patient health information directly from the patient in one location and transmitting it electronically to a healthcare provider in a different location for review. The information can include anything from a hospital patient’s vital signs, or a diabetic patient’s glucose levels, to tracking treatment for chronic diseases. 

Mobile Health

Often referred to as mhealth, mobile health has two aspects. One involves the use of smart devices, such as tablets and smartphones and apps developed for them, to support continued healthcare. These mobile devices can be used to track and monitor many things from a patient’s blood pressure or blood sugar level to the functioning of a pacemaker. 

The second aspect of mobile health involves the at-home collecting of blood, urine, and tissue samples for analysis in a laboratory. This enables the patient to have their sample collected from home and have their results delivered as soon as they are ready. 

The Future of Telehealth Technologies

Is the use of telehealth technologies here to stay? While the future of virtual care looks bright, there are still some challenges that need to be addressed. These include:

  • Poor integration: If a practitioner’s Electronic Health Records (EHR) system is incompatible with the telemedicine platform that you’re using, this is going to pose problems for your records. To avoid this issue, practitioners need a trusted platform that is easily integrated with their EHR. That way they can be certain that each patient’s medical records are properly documented and stored, and that all records are updated and ready for subsequent visits. 
  • Interrupted continuity of care: Problems with continuity of care can arise if a patient chooses a healthcare provider for one telemedicine appointment and then receives the next appointment from a different provider. In such a case, the second practitioner may not have access to all the patient’s medical information, which can make it difficult for her to diagnose the patient’s problem. To solve this problem, the physician should ask the patient where they previously received their telemedicine services.
  • Lack of patient awareness: Patients can only use telemedicine services if they are aware that they exist. Eight in ten large employers are currently emphasizing telehealth in their employee healthcare plans. This is a missed opportunity for physicians if patients are not aware that this is available to them. This is why healthcare providers need to make use of content marketing, social media strategies, and email newsletters to reach out to their patients and get the word out. 
  • Patient challenges with technology: In many cases, patients do not understand how to use telemedicine services. This can be a huge obstacle to utilization and accessibility. To fully grasp the extent to which this is affecting patients, physicians can survey patients before launching telehealth services. This will allow them to find out which devices patients are most comfortable using when accessing telemedicine. Staff training should also be taken into consideration so they can help patients who need assistance. 
  • Privacy concerns: Although telemedicine is convenient, it does not come without security and privacy concerns. HIPAA’s privacy and security regulations mandate that any information gathered through telehealth services is encrypted. Healthcare providers also need to be sure that they are communicating with their patients using a secure connection. Before storing any digital healthcare information, clinicians must get the permission of their patients.
  • The expense of technology: The combined cost of equipment and services needed to provide telehealth can be prohibitive for medical practices, clinics, and hospitals. It’s important to bear in mind that expenses can be reduced by bundling services or choosing flat-fee services. Furthermore, as public health telemedicine services continue to grow. The costs of maintaining them may decrease.

Use Getlabs for In-home Blood Work

If you need bloodwork done, Getlabs can help you get your blood sample taken at home.

Simply book an appointment online and one of our Getlabs specialists can help you give a blood sample, comfortably, safely, and with total confidentiality. It will save you time and you can enjoy our personalized care in the comfort of your home. After your sample has been collected, our specialist will take it to a local lab for analysis. You should receive your results within 3-5 business days. 

At Getlabs, we provide more than 5,000 different types of lab tests, so we’ve always got you covered.

Book an Appointment

Getlabs delivers healthcare to you. Our specialists come to you to collect your labs and deliver them to Labcorp and Quest for testing. We’re available same-day, nationwide.

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