My Resolved Suspicions

While telehealth has been around a while now, it joins a group of other internet-based modernisms like online shopping, video conferencing, and Skype interviewing that some were hesitant to adopt. When a new online innovation makes its appearance, there are often many who are leery of its capabilities. Is it safe? Is it reliable?

There are many regulations and rules regarding telehealth to ensure a safe and secure environment. Most insurance companies now cover telehealth and your telemedicine appointments and have required criteria to be followed.

Doctor's office visitFor example, your originating appointment with your provider can be required to be an office visit before you can participate in a tele-medical appointment. In my opinion, this is beneficial to both parties. As a patient, you may want to know more about your doctor’s patient care and that in-person visit will allow you to feel comfortable with your doctor. Being able to sit down and have a conversation about your medical history can have an impact on your treatment going forward.

When I initially encountered telehealth, I did not think it could be efficient or reliable. What if I’m sick and my doctor needs to take my temperature, or listen to my heart? How will my doctor know I’m really not well and what he prescribed will make me feel better? The more I researched, the more I realized the care received could rely more on internet connection quality and security. Also the clarity of webcam or digital camera can be very important to ensure the provider is able to diagnose with accuracy. I knew that my tablet and cell phone were up to date so I wouldn’t have an issue. If I wanted to go a step further, equipment-wise, I learned that there are special thermometers used that can read your temperature which are synced to your device and digital stethoscopes that can listen to your lungs or heart. apple health kit.png

Because this equipment is not cheap, some clinics or urgent care facilities have kiosks that are equipped with these devices and your diagnostics are handled by the on-call online doctor. Results are uploaded to the portal or to your EHR for your doctor to assist with his assessment of your appointment. Knowing this information assuaged my concerns.

Chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease are able to be managed efficiently with telehealth. Frequently missed appointments can be avoided. This was really important to me because it meant that my dad no longer had a reason why he could not get to his doctor’s appointments. Now that he’s retired and spends most of his time away visiting family, telehealth works in his favor. He, too, was skeptical but as he was sharing the experience with me, I could tell he was amazed with the technology and the follow up care he received.

Telehealth is improving every day and people are definitely talking about it. More providers are joining the network of telehealth. Telehealth Index: 2017 Consumer Survey found that 1 in 5 consumers would switch to a doctor that offers telehealth. What were your concerns before your first telehealth experience? Please share.

A Play on Words

“I am very interested in telehealth. Is telemedicine the same thing?”

“My doctor’s office encourages me to sign up on their patient portal site.  Is that what you’re talking about in your blog?”

“Are you also going to talk about telemedicine?”

There were many similar questions following my first post last month. The overwhelming response was positive but a number of folks were still trying to separate out telehealth from other related topics with which they were more familiar.  I was just excited that people read it and were interested in the topic!  The truth is that at one time I also had the very same question, ‘Is telehealth the same as telemedicine?’  They are similar and the terminology is often used interchangeably.  In the simplest terms, telemedicine is a component of telehealth.

Telemedicine is the delivery of healthcare services (clinical diagnosis/services) to the patient via telecommunication technologies.  The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that telemedicine can be traced back to the 1800s with the term ‘healing from a distance’.  Really??? 1800s???

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By Cqeme (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

But when you think about it, the telephone was invented in the 1800s so at that point being able to communicate with your physician over the phone to discuss a healthcare issue would be considered telemedicine.

Telemedicine can include a range of healthcare services, such as annual physicals, dental appointments, counseling, or even physical therapy, all without leaving your home.  While these are the clinical services of telemedicine, these amenities also involve some kind of education.  ‘Eating better with some exercise everyday can lower your blood pressure.’  Or ‘flossing can decrease your chances of cavities’.  This education received during your tele-medical appointment is, in essence, telehealth. It seems you cannot have one with the other.

Have you ever scheduled a doctor’s appointment and they recommend you to fill out the forms on the patient portal?  This site is where your patient history, test results, and appointments are monitored.  This is a part of your electronic health record (EHR).

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* Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license.

(Have you read Ruthanne Romero’s blog?  She discusses the EHR.  Go and take a look!) The patient portal would fall under telemedicine because it is associated with your clinical appointments but it also tells the history of the patient and perhaps informs them on steps they can take to ensure a healthy lifestyle.  Like telemedicine, these next steps can be elements that fall under telehealth: follow-up from your clinician involving telecommunicated services provided by social workers or webinars by other clinical staff (nurses or pharmacists) that go beyond the doctor-patient relationship.

Essentially, telemedicine has taken over the average doctor’s office visit and expands into the land of telehealth.  It is efficient, it saves time and money, and it has only gotten better over the years.  Instead of visiting your doctor’s office and experiencing long wait times, healthcare information is accessible 24/7.  It is quite convenient.

Did I answer your questions?  Are they the same?  Telemedicine provides the clinical services and telehealth includes those services but it is extended with the education that is attained through telecommunication technology.  They are not the same but they are very much related.

What is Telehealth?

‘Skip the waiting room with online doctor visits. Sign up and earn rewards.’  This was the message that appeared on my cellphone a few months ago and now once a week since then.  When I first saw it I thought, “Wow! They are getting you at all angles with telehealth.”

If you are on any social media site, you will likely see that the marketing for telehealth is everywhere.  Telehealth is the use of technology to support and promote healthcare. It could range from a video conference with your doctor for a consultation to actually receiving physical therapy via the web.  This new wave of healthcare has proven to save money on both ends – for the provider and the patient.  The overhead costs for the provider have been shown to decrease dramatically.  Imagine not having to pay rent for the big office building but only to have the best internet connection! On the patient side, it is great not to have to actually travel to the doctor’s office.

In my upcoming posts, I will be bringing you more information on this complex, new method of healthcare. In addition, I will discuss questions like: What are the benefits of telehealth? How is it being used? And is telehealth for you?

My name is Andrea Lewis and I’ve been studying and working in the healthcare industry for 15 years. Public health is important to me. Because telehealth involves preventative care and education to the community, I would describe it as a technology that is far reaching. If you’ve ever taken a class via the internet or viewed a training or webinar presentation regarding healthcare, then you’ve already taken advantage of this new innovation.  For those of you who have the same interests, I am excited to spark further discussion or perhaps this will be an outlet for those who are seeking additional information about telehealth.  Either way, I hope you’ll be back to read more!

You can check out my bio for more details about me.  I look forward to sharing my thoughts on telehealth and reading yours.

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