“While ‘telemedicine’ has been more commonly used in the past, ‘telehealth’ is a more universal term for the current broad array of applications in the field,” the TRC network states in its online resource guide. “Its use crosses most health service disciplines, including dentistry, counseling, physical therapy and home health, and many other domains. Further, telehealth practice has expanded beyond traditional diagnostic and monitoring activities to include consumer and professional education. Note that while a connection exists between health information technology (HIT), health information exchange (HIE) and telehealth, neither HIE nor HIT are considered to be telehealth.”
In developed countries, health promotion efforts using telehealth have been met with some success. The Australian hands-free breastfeeding Google Glass application reported promising results in 2014. This application made in collaboration with the Australian Breastfeeding Association and a tech startup called Small World Social, helped new mothers learn how to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is beneficial to infant health and maternal health and is recommended by the World Health Organisation and health organisations all over the world. Widespread breastfeeding can prevent 820,000 infant deaths globally but the practice is often stopped prematurely or intents to do are disrupted due to lack of social support, know-how or other factors. This application gave mother's hands-free information on breastfeeding, instructions on how to breastfeed and also had an option to call a lactation consultant over Google Hangout. When the trial ended, all participants were reported to be confident in breastfeeding.
HIT is the generation and transmission of digital health data, often through an electronic health record. Generally, HIT is used for administrative functions (keeping track of patient's health history, sharing information between providers, etc.) while telemedicine is the delivery of an actual clinical service. HIT can facilitate telemedicine but it is not a requirement for delivering remote health care.
There certainly has been a lot of excitement around how novel digital technology can change the patient-provider relationship. A recent survey found that 64% of patients are willing to have video visits with their physicians, and the telehealth industry is expected to expand 10-fold by 2018. Apps like Doctor on Demand could play a major role in bringing telehealth mainstream; notably, Richard Branson (the man behind the Virgin Group empire), has recently invested in Doctors On Demand. The biggest benefits of virtual health apps are in lowering costs and saving time, particularly for those who cannot access care nearby. In a disease like diabetes, where blood glucose data can be analyzed remotely, there certainly is a lot of potential for technology to improve care. For more information on the role of virtual health in diabetes, check out our conference pearls from AADE 2014. –AJW/KC/AB
Teladoc® is another alternative to accessing medical care for your non-emergent symptoms 24/7/365. Teladoc® is a convenient and affordable healthcare alternative to expensive and time-consuming E.R. visits or after-hour periods where care is difficult to find. All Teladoc® doctors are board-certified, state-licensed, and can even send a prescription straight to your nearest pharmacy when medically necessary!
Devices are also being used to track blood glucose levels and report high or low levels to patients and providers. In partnership with Stanford, Apple is testing whether its Apple Watch can be used to detect irregular heart patterns, and AliveCor’s KardiaBand allows Apple Watch wearers to perform electrocardiograms in 30 seconds that can easily be transmitted to physicians. Patients often go months without seeing their providers. RPM can allow for earlier detection of complications and identify patients who need to seek medical attention prior to in-person appointments. Moreover, chronic conditions can be more readily and efficiently managed resulting in higher quality care and outcomes as well as reduced costs.
Healthcare providers currently earn their medical licenses for a specific state. This lets them practice medicine legally in that state, and only that state. This presents a problem for telemedicine, as the entire goal is to break down geographical barriers between a patient and provider. According to medical licensing regulations, a specialist based in Colorado would not be legally allowed to treat a patient in New Mexico.
When a patient is in the hospital and he is placed under general observation after a surgery or other medical procedure, the hospital is usually losing a valuable bed and the patient would rather not be there as well. Home health allows the remote observation and care of a patient. Home health equipment consists of vital signs capture, video conferencing capabilities, and patient stats can be reviewed and alarms can be set from the hospital nurse’s station, depending on the specific home health device.
These devices can be packed into a kit and sent out into the field. In this way, telemedicine has proved extremely useful in rural and developing countries like Gabon, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Nigeria, where there is very little access to high-quality medical care. Telemedicine eliminates the barrier of distance and improves access to medical services that would otherwise not be available in distant rural communities.
Also impacting the rise of telemedicine today is the growing mobile health field. With the wide variety of mobile health apps and new mobile medical devices that are consumer-friendly, patients are starting to use technology to monitor and track their health. Simple home-use medical devices that can take vitals and diagnose ear infections, monitor glucose levels, or measure blood pressure let patients gather needed medical information for a doctor’s diagnosis, without going into the doctor’s office. And again, as more patients get proactive about using technology to manage their health, they also will be more open to alternative ways to get care – through telemedicine!
Policies and regulations in the telemedicine arena can be confusing for providers, vendors, and payers. Organizations interested in implementing telemedicine should be familiar with the laws in their state. For example, some states require informed consent from patients, while others do not. Some payers may not pay the same rate for telemedicine services as they do for in-person services. Practices should identify how providers will be paid, as some organizations seek grant funding.
However, for a while, adopting and investing in telehealth services had been too high, and the distribution of telehealth resolutions and hospital-based networks proved to be too costly. But now, due to technological improvement, improved broadband services are now powerful and easily affordable which makes the level of return on investment in telehealth higher than ever before. Across almost all medical specialties, telehealth services can be applied in connecting providers with different patients in different locations via real-time audio and video. In other cases, service centers can use telemedicine to collect remotely as well as send data to a central monitoring system for interpretation.
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Today, there are telemedicine solutions that allow patients to seek a second opinion from the comforts of their home. Sending another physician copies of your medical images and more can easily be done by uploading the content to their secure website. This is very convenient for those who need a specialist but do not have the resources to drive thousands of miles away or wait a long time.
Glenda Clemens has worked in primary care since 2001 and provided virtual care since 2012. She has practiced medicine as a nurse's aide, licensed practical nurse and registered nurse before receiving her Master of Nursing from the University of Oklahoma. From running her own practice to caring for veterans, she demonstrates a commitment to providing care to underserved populations. When she is not working, she enjoys knitting, crocheting and writing poetry.
1. The doctor writes you a prescription. In-person, this can mean a handwritten prescription or a digital prescription sent directly to a pharmacy. Prescriptions can be sent to a retail pharmacy, mail-order pharmacy, or pharmacy inside your doctor’s office. Online doctors only have the digital option and will likely send the prescription to a retail pharmacy in your area.