What is considered telehealth?

According to the World Health Organization: Telehealth is defined as the use of telecommunications and information technology to provide access to health assessment, diagnosis, intervention, consultation, supervision and information across distance. Telehealth includes such technologies as telephones, facsimile machines, electronic mail systems, and remote patient monitoring devices which are used to collect and transmit data for monitoring and interpretation.

What is the purpose of telehealth?

The purpose of Telehealth is to provide clinical support; it allows providers and patients to overcome geographical barriers and connects them when they cannot be in the same physical location.

How did telehealth start and how has it evolved?

Telehealth began in the early 20th century when electrocardiograph data was transmitted over telephone wires. It has evolved immensely over the years and has exploded over the past decade due to the increase of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) by the general population.

How does technology transform Telehealth?

Technology has transformed telehealth as there are hundreds of platforms to connect to healthcare providers online.

Today, the internet can be accessed almost anywhere and allows doctors and patients to use computers, tablets, and even cell phones to connect.

Below are a few examples of how the medical community is utilizing telehealth: 

    1. Doxy.me: This platform is a cloud-based electronic medical records (EMR) and telemedicine solution. It allows patients to click a URL to start their session with their doctor. Practitioners can also view their upcoming appointments, view patient forms, and have access to a patient queue to see who has checked in.
    2. SimpleVisit: This is a video visit service that allows doctors to connect to patients with a direct call over video platforms like FaceTime, Skype, and Google Hangouts.
    3. Telehealth for mental health: Recently, doctors have been using telehealth to provide group-counseling sessions online during COVID-19 to prevent the spread of disease and to continue care.

 How can you implement telehealth?

 To implement telehealth quickly into your practice during this time, there are a few steps provided by the American Medical Association you should take to succeed in implementing a telehealth program.

  1. Set up a team that will help make decisions quickly to ensure launch as soon as possible.
  2. Check with your insurance carrier to ensure your policy covers providing care via telemedicine.
  3. Educate yourself on payment guidelines for telemedicine services.
  4. Reach out to your state medical association for guidance on vendor evaluation, selection and contracting.
  5. Ensure HIPAA-compliance.
  6. Make sure you understand who has access to and owns any data generated during a patient visit
  7. Gain consent from patients for telemedicine interactions.
  8. Plan to educate your patients on the technology and how they should use it to keep your practice running smoothly.

Where can telehealth services be provided?

Under Medicare, the following healthcare providers can use telemedicine:

  • Nurse Practitioners.
  • Physician Assistants.
  • Nurse Midwives.
  • Clinical nurse specialists.
  • Clinical Psychologists.
  • Clinical Social Workers.
  • Registered dietitians or nutrition professionals.

What are the guidelines when practicing Telehealth?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology’s guidelines, they recommend the following 5 steps when implementing telehealth in a dermatology pharmacy:

  • Use existing systems and platforms (patient portals) to encourage patients to initiate telemedicine when available.
  • Identify highest risk or urgent patients and schedule them for telemedicine visits.
  • Defer all nonessential visits until a later time.
  • Develop an established pathway for contact and evaluation for urgent patients.
  • Confirm that patients know there is a clear line of communication to minimize emergency department overuse for noncritical issues.

Pros and cons of using Telehealth during Covid-19

Pros of using Telehealth during Covid-19:

  • Minimizing risk to health care workers and patients by eliminating physical meetings.
  • Using online waiting rooms provided by telehealth platforms keeps patients from piling up in close proximity to each other which also helps to flatten the curve.

What are the challenges of Telehealth:

  • Most small hospitals and private practices are not equipped to deliver care in this way. There is a large learning curve that hinders new practitioners from being able to use it quickly in this crisis.
  • Lack of equipment. Hospitals and offices need to have access to the necessary technology to set up these programs. If they do not have cameras, microphones, and internet access it is impossible to implement a good telehealth practice.
  • Hospitals needing to credential new doctors. New doctors and new staff do need to obtain the proper credentials in order to provide care to patients. This can be a slow process, which can result in a slower process for patients trying to use the telehealth program provided.

The growth of telemedicine over the past decade has allowed providers and patients easier access to healthcare remotely. Especially right now, telehealth is exploding as we continue to live through this crisis. Being able to practice social distancing by utilizing telehealth is helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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