The 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.” Telecommunication technologies include terrestrial and wireless communications, computers and internet, teleconferencing, video conferencing, and streaming media, to name a few.
Telehealth is different from telemedicine in that telemedicine specifically deals with remote clinical healthcare services, whereas telehealth refers to a broader scope of non-clinical information, such as continuing medical education, provider training and administrative meetings—in addition to the clinical services.
The advantages of telehealth are proving to be of great value in saving both time and money. Physicians and nurses can make virtual “visits” to a patient’s home to evaluate, diagnose and treat—without leaving their office. Likewise, telehealth allows the patient to receive expert healthcare without ever leaving their home. Telehealth provides improved communications to and from the patients, which in turn helps to decrease the number of hospital admissions. For example, the diabetic patient could upload their blood sugar levels, medication list or food logs to their physicians’ offices for their review and assessment, or the physician’s office could send out reminders to their patients to get their flu shots. Telehealth improves communications between the patient and physician’s office. Patients can get into their electronic medical record to see their latest test results, or if the patient has a question, he/she can email their physician and receive a timely response.
In an emergency, you will have quick access to your personal electronic medical health record via a web-based program, allowing other medical professionals access to your medical chart. They will see what you have been treated for and what medications you are currently taking. It could literally be a lifesaver.
Telehealth is revolutionizing healthcare and will only get better as time passes and the technology improves. The possibilities of how far medicine can go using telehealth technology are endless and can ultimately provide all patients with access to care wherever they are.
I believe that telehealth will be a blessing for homecare. We are already seeing improvements with gathering CPAP compliance information using wireless modems and smart stick transmission technology. This technology will continue to improve. Compliance downloads will be performed automatically at time intervals that you choose and the download information will be automatically entered into the patient’s electronic medical chart and sent to the patient’s primary care physician. This will remove a large portion of the labor your therapists are currently spending on follow-ups, freeing them up to increase their productivity in other areas.
Concentrator checks will soon be a thing of the past. Manufacturers of concentrators today are beginning to incorporate the capability of remote monitoring, which will eliminate the need to travel to the patient’s home to perform a routine concentrator check. Concentrators will be able to be monitored by in-office personnel more efficiently and at a much faster rate than home service technicians, saving time, labor and gasoline expenses. After-hours trips can be decreased with remote troubleshooting. Built-in GPS monitors will help locate equipment, reducing equipment replacement costs.
In the near future, you will be able to have a virtual face-to-face conversation with your patients from your office. Being able to see the problem the patient is having versus automatically sending a service could reduce your service calls by 50% or more.
Telehealth is changing the face of homecare and is only going to get better as the technology improves. Yes, there is nothing better than seeing the smiling face of a nurse or therapist coming to your home regularly and spending an hour with you to help you return to heath. However, the reality simply is that insurance companies refuse to reimburse at rates that can support that process. Telehealth can replace a good number of those visits and will save time, energy and money, which will allow your company to sustain operations for years to come.