What is telehealth?
The healthcare resource NEJM Catalyst defines telehealth as “the delivery and facilitation of health and health-related services, including medical care, provider and patient education, health information services, and self-care via telecommunications and digital communication technologies.” Telehealth includes telemedicine, which Oxford defines as “the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology.”
Surveys indicate 45% of physicians, and health systems professionals consider telemedicine a high priority, and that 88% are interested in using telemedicine to improve patient outcomes.
In addition to this interest, telehealth is being incentivized. The Center for Medical and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides reimbursements for telehealth services relating to behavioral health services, end-stage renal disease (ESRD) care, chronic disease management, and professional consultations, specifically in emergency departments. CMS also offers telehealth-related reimbursements for remote patient monitoring (RPM).
The Measured Impact of Telehealth
A telehealth program operated as an enterprise increases an organization’s success in achieving objectives by nearly 30%, compared with a telehealth program managed by separate departments. Patients who participate in remote patient monitoring have lower chances of experiencing hospital stays, fewer visits to urgent care or the emergency room, improved physical stamina, and improved symptom management. In addition, remote monitoring has given patients a greater sense of emotional well-being and overall satisfaction with their patient experience.
One specific telehealth service that’s been studied is Teledoc, a telemedicine company that gives members access to board-certified doctors 24/7/365 through an integrated platform. Studies indicate that 32% of patients using Teledoc have experienced a decrease in depression symptoms, a 31% drop in anxiety symptoms, and a 20% decrease in stress symptoms.
Studies have also shown the positive benefits of telemedicine for telepathology. One study found that the diagnosis provided by a specialist pathologist via telemedicine was more accurate than that of an onsite staff pathologist in 74% of cases.
What are the purposes and benefits of telehealth?
Telehealth has the potential to increase access to care across a wide range of healthcare specialties. The benefits extend to consumers, healthcare pros, and the healthcare industry.
The highest demand for telehealth services is across psychiatry and behavioral health, neurology, radiology, and pediatrics. Demand is also growing among dermatology, cardiology, chronic care, obstetrics, and gynecology. Settings where telehealth services can work include acute care, correctional care, and schools.
Applications of telehealth care include video conferencing, remote patient monitoring, transmitting a health record or human history, and education and training. It can also include mobile health, a system sometimes known as mHealth. This system can track health measurements and habits such as blood sugar, blood pressure, carbs, sleep patterns, activity levels, and vital signs. It can also manage chronic conditions, weight loss, smoking cessation, and scheduling doctor’s appointments.
The concept of telehealth may expend to numerous care-related components. For instance, it can extend to behavioral health, which could help to reduce the stigma associated the field. It can also be potentially used in emergency room settings, where it may lower treatment costs, workplace stress, and wait times. Additionally, ophthalmology could conceivably use telehealth to improve patient care quality and increase patient access. Finally, telehealth may be used in a perinatal and postnatal health setting, where it may help to produce fewer incidents of low birth weight and create a daily provision of educational content for mothers.
What does the future of telehealth look like?
Adoption of telehealth is growing across the U.S. By 2022, the virtual healthcare market is projected to be worth at least $3.5 million, and the global telemedicine market is projected to surpass $66 million. Despite the obstacles, healthcare will look much different from what it is today, with innovations like virtual doctor visits and the near elimination of wait times.
Progress in Telehealth
The federal government recognizes the importance of expanding access to care through telehealth, and numerous bills aim to broaden telehealth usage. For instance, CMS exempts accountable care organizations from restrictive regulations for telehealth. Additionally, health policies will soon add telehealth as a benefit in Medicare Advantage plans and are currently increasing the scope of telehealth-accommodated services by paying for chronic conditions. The use of wearable tech and health apps also helps healthcare professionals monitor a host of physiological data, helping foster a partnership between tech companies, physicians, and healthcare organizations.
Challenges in Telehealth
A 2017 survey of healthcare organizations conducted by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) identified several telehealth challenges expected within the next three years. Top expected challenges include inadequate coverage and payments, licensure, resistance to change, and lack of ROI.
Trends in Telehealth
The increasing investments in telemedicine are cultivating the segment. More than 80% of healthcare organizations say they’re highly likely to invest in telehealth, and consumer interest is driving organizations to invest in the telehealth market. Niche care will likely become more decentralized as large organizations partner with local care centers. Also, physicians are using specialty-specific telemedicine software on different devices.
Telehealth presents more opportunity for healthcare professionals and patients alike.
Telehealth is breaking down barriers to receiving care. With the adoption of these new technologies and treatment strategies, time, distance, and availability are becoming smaller obstacles. Telehealth connects healthcare professionals and patients promptly, conveniently, and efficiently.
As healthcare leaders work with lawmakers to remove the red tape and broaden the use of telehealth, healthcare pros will be prepping for and adapting to the positive changes to come.