Telehealth, sometimes called telemedicine, offers patients and physicians a way to communicate that bypasses the traditional office visit yet provides excellent care through the magic of webcam and smartphones. Telehealth began as a way to reach those in very remote areas who didn't have ready access to a doctor. Today, telehealth has crept into everyday healthcare, allowing doctors to extend their services, monitor chronic conditions, and possibly halt a health problem before it becomes serious. By Shannon Dauphin Lee
By Shannon Dauphin Lee
Those who loved the television show "House M.D." might recall one of the most popular episodes: A woman in the middle of the unforgiving Antarctic has a sudden onset of mysterious symptoms. Brilliant doctor Gregory House agrees to help her, and the only way he can do that is via phone or webcam. Through a series of twists and turns, House diagnoses her before the worsening medical condition can claim her life. It's a victory for the grumpy doc – and a fun example of how telehealth can make a difference.
Telehealth, sometimes called telemedicine, offers patients and physicians a way to communicate that bypasses the traditional office visit yet provides excellent care through the magic of webcam and smartphones. Telehealth began as a way to reach those in very remote areas who didn't have ready access to a doctor. Today, telehealth has crept into everyday healthcare, allowing doctors to extend their services, monitor chronic conditions, and possibly halt a health problem before it becomes serious.
Telehealth offers convenience and comfort
Telehealth services offer more convenience for patients, saving them a great deal of time, money, and frustration. As Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School, pointed out to U.S. News and World Report, patient time is one of the points that is rarely addressed when discussing healthcare costs. The time to make an appointment, commute to the office, sit in the waiting room, talk with the doctor, and then commute back – not to mention the time lost from work and family obligations – adds up to big dollar signs and a lot of hassle. ""When you start counting up all those hours, it turns into a huge amount of time, which adds up to a huge amount of money," Mehrotra said.
Teresa Myers, M.D., of Online Care Group, a national online medical practice which manages physicians practicing on the American Well telehealth platform, points out that the costs of medical care can be brought down by telehealth services. "There are other benefits to telehealth care – patients don't risk infecting others by going to hospitals or clinics, not to mention risk infecting the doctor. They also don't have to spend time, money, and energy on a trip to the ER, nor the hefty bill that comes with it."
Another advantage is patient comfort, which can lead to more than just feeling cozy. "I make stronger connections with my patients during video or phone examinations because often I am talking to the patient in the comfort of their home, at their convenience," Myers said. "When patients call me from bed, they are so relieved to learn that they do not have a horrible disease – and even more relieved to know that they don't have to rush to the ER."
That connection with patients can make a big difference in the long term as well, according to a study detailed in the October 2013 issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine. In a study of 128 diabetic patients, those who received two daily text messages for six months showed over a one percent drop in A1C levels, better adherence to medication schedules, and fewer visits to the emergency room.
Enhancing patient care
Telehealth can certainly connect doctors directly with their patients, but it can also bring teams together to treat those who need more intensive care. Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, N.H. is an example of that. Doctors treating stroke patients can connect to Dartmouth-Hitchcock and the Mayo Clinic to consult with neurologists on the patient's condition. This will allow more timely and accurate diagnosis, which could then result in much better outcomes.
For the last six years, the Department of Psychiatry at Michigan State University has used telehealth to treat patients in 10 rural and underserved areas of Michigan, and is now broadening that reach to include teaching and research in far-flung places like Malawi and Mexico. In Malawi – where the entire country has one psychiatric hospital and one psychiatrist – faculty and students will be able to connect with clinical offices and conduct grand rounds via video, discussing cases, and treatment options for patients who might not have received adequate care without telehealth.
Telehealth shows promise for even further innovation. A November 2013 presentation at the U.S. News Hospital of Tomorrow Forum demonstrated the use of a remote robot checking vital signs, zooming in on the patient, and evaluating imaging on a monitor, all through the use of a simple 4G connection. By bringing expensive specialists to the beside through telehealth, patients can expect better collaboration between doctors, which means better care – and they can also use telehealth to remain informed about their medical condition in a way that would have been impossible without these advances in medical technology.
About the Author
Shannon Dauphin Lee has been writing professionally for two decades on a wide variety of topics, including medical and health issues, education, home repair and relationships. She contributes to several websites, including AlliedHealthWorld.com.