Imagine you live in the rural countryside. You wake up one morning and feel terrible: feverish, nauseated, achy from head to toe. Your doctor’s office is almost an hour’s drive away, and you don’t feel like you have it in you to make the drive safely. What do you do?
In the developing field of telehealth, the answer is simple: you video conference!
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is the application of remote electronic devices to the medical industry, improving healthcare for patients. Mobile apps and smartwatches can do anything from tracking a patient’s heart rate to helping someone in recovery stay on track. As technology explodes, its impact on health and wellness are endless.
So, what exactly is telehealth? It’s a rising form of healthcare that has branched off from telemedicine. The terms telehealth and telemedicine get thrown around a lot, and often interchangeably. While they can be synonymous, there is a distinction. Telemedicine, an older term, applies specifically to patient-interacting services — doctor appointments, medical testing, etc. — via electronic communications. Telehealth is a much broader term. It encompasses the services of telemedicine and includes services that may not directly include the patient such as training and education, administration, and public health works.
Is Telehealth a Reasonable Solution?
Telehealth is good for financial health as well physical health. In a society of skyrocketing healthcare costs, telehealth can cut down on travel time and expenses, promote patient education and self-monitoring, and increase professional monitoring on patients with often undertreated chronic illnesses, like diabetes.
This also cuts down on hospital stays, and when a hospital stay becomes necessary, reduces the length of that stay. Telehealth also helps reduce the environmental impact of all the commuting to a physician's office, and the expense (and difficulty) of travelling to see specialists. Some healthcare plans even reimburse costs for telehealth devices. Patients who battle chronic disease and illnesses face the nearly punitive brunt of healthcare costs; imagine the difference in quality of life when they pay less to feel better.
In stroke victims, telehealth can increase post-stroke care, leading to a lower mortality rate of 15 – 56 percent. Telemedicine apps can lead to healthier lifestyles, decreasing the potential to develop chronic illnesses like diabetes. They can help those with depression or other mental illnesses navigate their day, stabilize their moods, or monitor their breathing and pulse to identify potential anxiety attacks.
The ripple effect of the advantages of telehealth is long-reaching. When patients with respiratory illnesses consult a doctor from home, at-risk groups, like children, the elderly or the immunocompromised, encounter less of it at a doctor’s office, or hospital. Patients won’t need to resort to the emergency room for minor illnesses after doctor’s hours, leaving the emergency room free to treat patients faster. Patients can access their own files electronically, making it easier to consult with specialists or insurance companies.
Just another Case Scenario
Now imagine: you wake up feeling sick. It’s the weekend, so your doctor’s office is closed. Deductibles on an emergency room visit are sky high, and an emergency waiting room sounds like the worst place in the world. Your doctor has an after-hours telehealth line. You call in, and the nurse practitioner diagnoses you with a bad cold. He prescribes fluids and bed rest. You go back to bed and sleep your way to health. Isn’t technology great?