What is Telehealth Services?
One of the most common terms today are telemedicine and telehealth. However, very few people seem to understand the meaning of what these fields entail as well as the roles that they play in a person’s healthcare organization.
So, what is telehealth? What does telehealth mean and what are telehealth services?
In layman’s language, telemedicine and telehealth are terms that represent the transfer and exchange of medical information between different sites. From the American Telemedicine Association’s point of view; telemedicine, as well as telehealth, are defined by transmission of still images, patient’s consultations through video conferencing, patient portals, remote control and monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education, patient-focused wireless applications and nursing call centers and many other applications.
Telehealth’s existence can be dated from the 1960’s with one of the earliest applications being the monitoring of the physiological parameters of astronauts. Over the years, thanks to technological advancement, there has been a number of technological and communications tools that have been implemented to enable the transfer of patient’s information for recommendations and consultations across almost every medical environment and specialty. Telehealth services for patients have also been able to provide remote monitoring of the patient, consumer health communication and information and medical education for providers. Typically, delivery techniques include: networked programs that link tertiary medical centers to outlying centers and clinics in rural areas, home phone-video connections, point-to-point connection to hospitals and clinics, web-based e-health service pages and home monitoring links.
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.
It is common for outlying healthcare facilities to transfer unnecessarily or forced to refer patients to complex cases that are beyond the knowledge-base of the local providers. Patients are therefore frequently transported over long distances to get direct care or for specialist’s telehealth consultation. These referrals and transfers can be quite costly for the patient since they present clinical, operational and financial challenges to all the parties that are involved. Telemedicine can curb such issues, reduce the frequency of travel and deliver considerable efficiencies and returns for all parties involved.
Thanks to telemedicine programs, hospitals, clinics and all other health facilities can ensure that patients receive the best care possible when that care is in their hometown or even hundred of miles away. So what is telehealth’s role in this? It can play a major role in addressing some of the upcoming challenges for healthcare in the United States. For instance, the population growth from 2008-2030 is set at 20%, that is 363 million people, which is predicted to bring about a shortage of healthcare professionals and the lack of specialists and medical facilities in rural areas. Additionally, there is an expected increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and obstructive pulmonary disease. Statistics indicates that almost 5 million patients are admitted to the intensive care unit that accounts for 20% of the hospital’s operating budgets. Telemedicine can reduce the impact of such challenges by connecting the right people with the correct resources and expertise in real-time.