What is telehealth and how it is different from my usual form of healthcare?

The internet has truly transformed modern life, with everything from the way you manage your home energy consumption through to your interactions with friends and family. There can also be no doubt that the internet has started to play a much bigger role in the way we access out healthcare services. Traditionally an analogue industry, our health records, prescriptions, and test results are all now kept digitally. It is this drive towards the digital that coined the term ‘telehealth’.

 

What is telehealth?

Telehealth is the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and communication technologies. It allows long-distance healthcare from the comfort of patients’ homes, which is why it has received such a boost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These digital health technologies – mobile health technologies, Remote Patient Monitoring tools, live video, and wearable devices create ecosystems for digital health. They are also helping healthcare providers that are facing increasing pressure on the need for their services. This is because telehealth can help them reduce costs by diverting patients away from more costly care settings, improve the quality of care, by allowing doctors to constantly monitor patients’ vitals remotely, via wearables, and enhance the efficiency of health systems by reducing the need for time consuming face-to-face appointments.

They are also helping healthcare providers that are facing increasing pressure on the need for their services. This is because telehealth can help them reduce costs by diverting patients away from more costly care settings, improve the quality of care, by allowing doctors to constantly monitor patients’ vitals remotely, via wearables, and enhance the efficiency of health systems by reducing the need for time consuming face-to-face appointments.

For people with chronic conditions, elderly patients, and those with disabilities, telehealth is a great alternative to seeing a doctor in person – where it might be difficult for them to travel to the hospital, or park nearby. What’s more, with the COVID-19 pandemic at the forefront of many vulnerable people’s minds, the technology has become a vital tool for the above groups at reducing the risks of in-person contact at the doctor’s surgery, managing staff shortages caused by a shift in resource demand at this time, directing vulnerable people away from the emergency room, and an alternative to the traditional forms of medical engagement when ill.

 

How does telehealth work?

If you’ve needed to visit the doctor during the pandemic but were physically unable to, due to a stay-at-home order, you may already be familiar with how telehealth services work. Usually, to access a telehealth service, you need to book a video consultation either by ringing your doctor’s office directly, or you can register for a general consultation, via an app.

There are a variety of apps available to choose from, depending on where you live. In the US, for example, you might be able to use Amazon Care to chat with nurses or doctors – the service can also dispatch someone to your home for in-person support. In the UK, one popular telehealth app is Doctor Care Anywhere, and in France you can use DoctoLib.

Once you have selected the type of doctor you need for your appointment, and the video consultation is booked, you simply logon to your computer at the time agreed with your practitioner and click on a link to start the video. Just as if you were visiting the doctor in person, during the consultation, the doctor will ask you questions about your medical history and discuss a diagnosis, or a referral. They can also prescribe any medication they feel is necessary and send the prescription to your local pharmacy for you to collect.

If you have a long-term health condition, your telehealth appointment may follow a slightly different structure. This is because you’re likely to have a specific doctor you see every time to monitor your progress. The medical equipment the doctor uses to assess you might also be more advanced than during a standard telehealth appointment.

For example, let’s say you have diabetes. The doctor might ask you to use your mobile phone or other device to upload food logs, medications, dosing and blood sugar levels for review by a nurse who responds electronically. You may also be sent an IoT medical device, such as a connected blood glucose monitor, which measures and wirelessly transmits information to your doctor in real-time. Your doctor would then receive a notification if your insulin levels were too low and would call you to make sure you’re okay.

Have you had any experiences with telehealth yet? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments section below.

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