TELEHEALTH: merging health care and technology

telehealth

Telehealth sometimes referred to as telemedicine, is a term used to cover a wide range of tools and technologies used to deliver virtual health care. In actuality, telehealth refers to a broader range of services than telemedicine, but the objectives of both are similar,  to increase means by which health services can be delivered giving people enhanced tools that enable them to better manage their health.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”

Telehealth services

Telehealth users can receive a number of valuable services from the comfort of their own homes or local primary care physician.  Care such as simple health care diagnosis, education, and condition management can often be achieved without an in-person visit. Telehealth users can also expect:

  • Primary care and specialist referral
  • Remote monitoring and condition management
  • Education and distribution of information

Advantages of technology

The key benefit of telehealth is convenience, and by that, we mean increased access to care at a low cost. Opening up this option to uninsured,  low-income individuals with mobility issues, or people in rural communities for whom the nearest expert is a considerable drive, can positively impact health in a number of ways.  For someone who cannot get to the doctor because they don’t have a vehicle or live a great distance from a specialist, this service represents access and can mean the difference between no care and excellent care. And while those examples represent some of the most compelling cases for telehealth, day-to-day maintenance of conditions through monitoring and education can also be achieved using telemedicine. Telemedicine can also mean less time waiting in a physician’s office where a patient may contract an additional illness. Furthermore, telemedicine often costs less. Telemedicine consultations can be less pricey and travel costs are removed from the equation entirely.

For behavioral health, in particular, telehealth can make dealing with stigma much easier. Telecounseling offers an alternative to patients who want counseling services but wish to avoid the perceived stigma of visiting a practitioner’s office. Studies have demonstrated that only about a quarter of individuals with mental illnesses are receiving treatment. Telemedicine could dramatically impact those numbers facilitating access to people who may have been embarrassed to seek it otherwise.

Where technology falls short

There are a few downsides to using telehealth. First, and probably the most important, is that sometimes an assessment can fall short when it is not conducted in person. There is no touch involved in telemedicine and for a field that relies a great deal on the physical, this can be a downfall. Another concern with telehealth is that it relies on technology, which is prone to  occasional malfunctions and outages. Finally, telehealth is innovative and as with most new technology, there is still resistance from physicians not comfortable with technology.  Overall, these cons seem minimal compared with the benefits that can potentially be gained by adopters of telemedicine.

Telehealth service delivery

There are several applications through which telehealth can be delivered.

  • Real-time Interactive Services meaning live video between the patient and provider using audiovisual telecommunications technology.
  • Store-and-Forward which is secure sharing of recorded health history between a primary care physician and a specialist.
  • Remote patient monitoring (RPM) of a patient by the provider to help provide care and support on an ongoing basis.
  • Mobile health (mHealth) or applications that promote improved health and monitor conditions through mobile devices.

While in-person visits are essential to maintaining health, telehealth can be an extremely beneficial tool in the overall management of care.

References:
http://cchpca.org/what-is-telehealth
https://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/faqs/what-telehealth-how-telehealth-different-telemedicine
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/telehealth/art-20044878
http://www.who.int/goe/publications/goe_telemedicine_2010.pdf
https://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/frequently-asked-questions/486#id155
https://www.medicaid.gov/Medicaid-CHIP-Program-Information/By-Topics/Delivery-Systems/Telemedicine.html

About Behavioral Health Professionals, Inc.:

Established in 2002 and headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, BHPI is a Managed Behavioral Health Organization offering behavioral health services through a fully integrated network of world class healthcare providers.  Our emphasis is on adding value for our customers by offering expert behavioral care management, medical coordination, and behavioral disease and chronic behavioral condition management.  BHPI offers collaborative solutions by building strong partnerships with HMOs, Health Systems, Insurance Companies, and Employer groups.  For more information visit: BHPI.org