What is Telehealth? Part I

Telehealth is one way to deliver healthcare services. It involves the use of technology between a health provider and a patient, using  telephones, smartphones, tablets or  or desktop  computers. Telehealth is used as an alternative to in-person care. Visits are conducted virtually and may use either voice or video to communicate. 

Telehealth helps to connect providers to patients no matter where they live.  It’s used when in-person visits are not possible or required. Telehealth has been used in America for over 30 years and deemed a safe and effective way to coordinate care.

Who uses telehealth?

Telehealth services allow someone to receive medical attention almost anywhere, any time. This can be a major benefit to rural communities, underserved populations or vulnerable individuals. Those who cannot easily access transportation can also have their needs met by telehealth. 

People with disabilities, the elderly or people who live in a town without their desired medical specialty can all benefit from telehealth. Even having a busy schedule and little free time is reason enough to seek virtual care. 

In America, 76% of hospitals use some form of telehealth to communicate with patients. Telehealth has become a major part of our current healthcare system. As technology continues to grow, there will be more opportunities to improve the lives of patients. 

History of Telehealth

One of the earliest uses of telehealth was by NASA in 1960 to monitor astronauts in flight. The idea of staying connected across a great distance was valued in society. It was realized that providers can reach a larger number of people and prevent more illness. The US National Library of Medicine eventually designated millions of dollars to telehealth projects over 19 years, targeting the isolated communities like rural, inner city and suburban.

Changes to the health industry 

The Rural Health Information Hub reports that telehealth can increase the volume and quality of care while reducing the costs. Telehealth can decrease hospital readmissions and avoidable ER visits for rural populations. Smaller clinics can now provide broader services or virtually receive assistance from a specialist in another city. 

Telehealth has also enabled more in-home monitoring. Data is collected from the patient in the comfort of their own home and transferred to an outside provider. This has helped with the management of chronic conditions. It has been proven successful with diabetes, depression and patients recently released from a hospital. It also allows for more “aging in place” of seniors, instead of having to move to a long-term care facility. 

As per the American Telemedicine Association, a recap of telehealth benefits include: improved access, cost efficiency, improved quality and consumer demand. Services can be spread across a larger location. The expertise of a provider can reach a wider audience. Travel time is reduced for both patient and provider. Managing a condition from home can prevent bigger hospital bills. Mental health and ICU telehealth services were found to have better outcomes and client satisfaction than in-person consults. 

Health Affairs reports that 8 in 10 adults felt that their primary health concern was resolved through a telehealth visit. This suggests telehealth is a viable and satisfying option. The blog also reveals that in a 2021 survey, the highest percentage of people were using telehealth for their annual physical or a preventative service. 

Types of telehealth 

There are multiple ways to engage in telehealth. A virtual visit is a real-time encounter with a provider through video, phone or chat. Chat-based interactions use the internet or a mobile app to send health data and results. Remote patient monitoring can involve smartphones, body sensors or implanted monitors. Telehealth is an evolving service. It also allows for doctor-to-doctor communication, patient education, data interpretation and digital diagnostics.

Changing times

With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the way people engage in healthcare has changed. Many offices shut down or greatly limited their in-person services. Staff shortages impacted the number of patients that could be seen. Appointments became harder to schedule in order to maintain social distancing. 

Many people were afraid to leave the house or go to a public setting. A 2020 study showed an 80% decline in in-person visits and a 683% increase in telehealth consults. Telehealth really rose to the occasion and allowed patients to seek help. Most routine consultations or nonurgent cases could be addressed virtually. 

In response to the pandemic, Medicare expanded its coverage for telehealth services. As infection numbers rose, using tablets or computers helped to reduce staff exposure. Technology was used to maintain contact and care with the isolated patient. 

Teleaudiology 

In recent years, many major hearing aid companies have expanded to offer telehealth or remote solutions. Medicare also increased the number of telehealth services that audiologists and speech-language pathologists can bill for. Services include speech-generating devices, hearing services and cognition. 

Audiologists have started using creative solutions to help patients while lowering the risk of COVID-19. Former face-to-face visits are replaced with telephone, video or remote connection to hearing aid devices.

Hear.com is innovating teleaudiology

We work with the top 2% of hearing professionals in the nation. Hearing solutions are as easy as 1, 2, 3 with hear.com: 

  1. Speak to licensed hearing experts 

2. Take a hearing test 

3. Get the best hearing aid, programmed for your individual needs

We use telehealth to assist people across the country. No matter where you live or what your circumstances are, you can have access to the country’s best hearing experts right from your own home. 

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