Telehealth: The Innovation Everyone Needs Right Now

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the U.S.’s healthcare industry into a loop. In the last few months, people with pre-existing conditions or health concerns that aren’t related to the virus chose to stay at home instead of consulting their physicians for fear that they might catch the COVID-19 out in public or in the hospital premises itself.

With a vaccine still proving elusive a few months into this pandemic and scientists predicting that the most realistic timeline for it to be ready would be in the next 12-18 months, healthcare providers are pressured to find new ways of making healthcare available to the public. The number one solution right now appears to be telehealth.

What is Telehealth?

In a nutshell, telehealth (or telemedicine) refers to the use of electronic and telecommunications technology to remotely provide primary care advice and coordinate at-home treatments to patients and caregivers. It enables physicians and patients to have a consultation without having to meet face to face.

Modern telehealth solves the issue of guesswork on the part of the physician: thanks to integrated video conferencing, physicians can check for visible symptoms and take note of pain indicators (e.g., facial expressions and body language), among others, instead of depending on vague or wrong descriptions from a patient.

Telehealth is not new. As early as 2010, 35% of hospitals in the U.S. were already fully or partially adopting computerized healthcare systems. By 2017, this percentage had climbed to 76%.

The rudiments of technology-backed, remote healthcare are, therefore, already in place. There are existing infrastructure and developers of web-accessible patient portals that make remote medical consultations possible.

Implementing telehealthcare, however, will be challenging to clinics and large practices that have long used traditional systems. Telehealth will be a radical shift for them, but a necessary one in light of the current health crisis.

How Automated and Digitized Is Your Practice?

Here are some of the components that make up a telemedicine service:

  • Virtual patient-doctor consultations
  • Follow-up appointments through video conferencing
  • Automated reminders sent to the patient’s mobile phone
  • Doorstep delivery of prescriptions
  • Wireless billing
  • Online messaging
  • Delivery of test results through patient portals

Hospitals and practices that are late to adopt telehealth can acclimate to the emerging “new normal” by digitizing these segments one at a time, or as their resources will allow.

Of course, it would be more convenient for both patients and physicians if the entire primary care procedure can be done on a single platform.

  • Less work for the hospital or clinic administration
  • More cost-effective for clinics and practices that have to outsource hardware set-up and software installations to a third-party IT company
  • Fewer dashboards to study and learn to use
  • Fewer online portals to introduce to patients
  • Better patient experience, thanks to the convenience of being able to access all their medical records and other personal information on one dashboard.
  • Convenience and speed in booking doctors’ appointments
  • Hassle-free delivery and receipt of billing statements, prescriptions, and test results

Why Embrace Telehealth?

When telehealth was first introduced commercially more than a decade ago, the convenience and time-savings it offered were its biggest attractions. These are still valid today, but there are now bigger and more dire reasons why health providers must streamline, automate, and digitize their procedures and primary care services.

The pandemic is still raging, and there’s still no vaccine in sight. As long as coronavirus-positive patients are still being admitted in hospitals, the public has to consider these places as high-risk areas they should avoid.

As it is, industry observers have already seen a spike in telehealth visits in March 2020. Patients sought hospitals and physicians that are already offering telehealth medicine services; and after most major hospitals hurriedly set up their respective telehealth infrastructures, doctors encouraged patients to keep using these online channels as much as possible instead of physically visiting the hospital for consultations. Even people who show mild symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to stay at home and receive home treatment guidance through telemedicine.

Both medical professionals and patients have to embrace telehealth as a means of providing and receiving primary care services. Technology is what connects patients with healthcare providers at a time when separation and isolation have become keys to recovery. More importantly, it enables healthcare practitioners to reach a wider population given that telehealth removes geographic and physical boundaries. 

Telehealth Is the New Normal

Societies evolve and adapt to a “new normal” each time a pandemic occurs. For this age, the changes brought upon by COVID-19 are likely to stay even after the crisis passes. There is every indication, for example, that the increased use of online shopping and delivery services will persist.

By this token (plus the fact that healthcare facilities were already moving towards automation and telemedicine since at least 10 years ago), we can safely assume that telehealth services will become more integral to primary care. Healthcare providers that fail to recognize these trends will lose out on other hospitals and clinics that are more in touch with patients’ needs and the changing times.

sudarsan

Sudarsan Chakraborty is a professional writer. He contributes to many high-quality blogs. He loves to write on various topics.