Aug 31, 2020 3:21:54 AM Benjamin Pure

Telehealth: Is This the Answer to Provide Equitable Access to Healthcare?

The global telehealth market reached $40 billion last year and it is expected to continue to grow exponentially over the next five years, reaching $55.6 billion by 2025. These numbers are mind-boggling, but the real impact of telehealth solutions truly shows in the way they improve access to healthcare, especially in underserved communities.

Different Types of Telehealth Services

The World Health Organization defines telehealth as ‘delivery of healthcare services, where patients and providers are separated by distance.’ Telehealth services are enabled by ITC technologies and cover such activities as remote patient consultation, telemonitoring of vital signs, the use of mobile health applications, and other healthcare-related services provided at a distance.

Typically, telehealth delivery falls into one of the following categories:

  • Store-and-forward. This applies to the situation when a patient collects health information by means, e.g.,
    of a smartphone, camera, or an app, and transmits this data to a physician or practitioner for later review. Examples of store-and-forward, asynchronous telehealth activities include taking a picture of a skin lesion, forwarding x-ray or MRI readings, or filling out a customized digital patient survey. Store-and-forward services do not require real-time communication, and they complement traditional healthcare delivery methods in non-urgent cases or when no face-to-face consultation is required. 
  • Remote patient monitoring. RPM, or telemonitoring, refers to a variety of technologies, usually enhanced with smart devices, that enable a healthcare provider to monitor the patient’s condition remotely, using real-time communication and information relay channels. Common examples of RPM devices include digital pressure cuffs, glucose sensors, heart rate monitors, and other smart devices connected to software that gathers the readings and forwards them to physicians for real-time patient monitoring.
  • Live video conferencing. Video conferencing tools can be used to improve treatment outcomes in a variety
    of scenarios. Digital doctor consultations reduce patient time and cost related to traveling to the doctor’s office. Multidisciplinary virtual meetings, including the coordination of multipart surgery conferences, are held
    by dispersed teams of specialists from different disciplines to discuss the best treatment plan for a shared patient. Videoconferencing can also be used for remote peer support and delivery of online training, workshops, and courses.

The Benefits of Telehealth

Remote health services provide the opportunity to make healthcare more efficient, better coordinated, and closer to the patient’s home. They can be an effective strategy to tackle significant challenges in healthcare: hospital congestion, high cost of services, and the absence of specialist services. 

In particular, virtual healthcare practices and services aid clinicians and benefit patients through:

  • Expanded access to care. By enabling patients to interact remotely with physicians, virtual care services save the time, money, and hassle of in-person visits, especially in cases that don’t require urgent assistance. Telehealth solutions are particularly of value for people living in remote or isolated regions and areas of doctor shortage.
  • Continuous monitoring of chronic conditions. Nearly half of Americans live with a chronic disease. Telehealth, and remote patient monitoring solutions, in particular, help involve chronically-ill patients in their own care, providing aid and support in monitoring lifestyle changes, and helping patients manage their treatment regime. This reduces the cost of care for patients and providers and helps ensure optimal treatment outcomes.
  • Reduced practice overhead. Through improved patient engagement and a sense of ownership over own health, telehealth solutions drive substantial advantages for healthcare providers, such as lower number of no-shows, reduced readmission rates, and more effective clinical workflows.
  • New business models for healthcare providers. Thanks to telehealth, medical providers can stretch their services to reach patients outside of their usual healthcare delivery zones. Through convenience, telemedicine may also create an extra incentive for existing patients to seek medical advice more frequently, creating new revenue streams for medical facilities and doctors.

The Benefits of Telehealth

The healthcare landscape in every country creates different motives to telehealth adoption. In the USA, the main drivers for the introduction of remote health solutions include treatment and preventive care cost reduction and increased healthcare accessibility. 

However, despite the growing technology adoption and digital-savviness of patients, there are still certain barriers to telehealth implementation that may hamper its adoption in the USA context. These include:

  • Lack of patient access to technology.
  • Difficulties with integrating telehealth into traditional workflows.
  • Concerns about due protection and privacy of patient data.

Nevertheless, technology advances are making the above issues increasingly simple to overcome. Recognizing the shift toward participatory, personalized, and preventive medicine, federal regulatory agencies are implementing regulatory strategies and policies for digital health technologies. This helps providers apply telehealth practices in a way that’s compliant and respectful of patient privacy rights. Additionally, telehealth services have seen an explosive growth spurred by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, emerging as a safe, cost-efficient, and sustainable solution to ease the burden on health facilities while protecting patient health at the same time. 

Telehealth visits in the USA are expected to top 1 billion by the end of this year. [Source]

Telehealth. Time to Move Forward

As medicine is increasingly moving toward personalization, telehealth will be the main factor in tailoring care to each and every patient. By providing long-distance access to quality healthcare, remote healthcare solutions such as mHealth apps, live call answering services, virtual consultations, and other medical services offer the means to enhance care in a way that accurately responds to the needs of American communities.