What is Telehealth?

Health-related services can all be distributed to different people at different time and location depending on the medium at which it is employed. Telehealth, on the other hand, refers to the distribution and dissemination of health-related services or information through electronic information and telecommunication technologies. Telehealth can take many forms depending on the type you wish to use. Telehealth allows patients who are far away from accessing quality health, clinician or physician as well as other health care providers to do so in just a matter of time.

Long distance learning, meetings, supervision and presentations between medical practitioners can be well achieved through the use of technology. Telehealth could include two or more clinicians who discuss a case study over video conference; robotic surgeries can also be well integrated through remote access. Physical therapy can also be treated and analyzed through this means of communication.

Telehealth is sometimes interchanged with telemedicine. The Health Resources and Services Administration clearly distinguishes between the two terms “Telehealth and telemedicine” in its scope. According to them, telemedicine only refers to clinical services such as diagnosis and monitoring, while Telehealth includes the preventative, primitive and curative care that is being delivered to patients through any means of technology, i.e., video or audio conversations.

The beginnings of Telehealth have long existed through primitive forms of both or either communication and technology. For example, during the Roman and pre-Hippocratic periods in antiquity, the elderly and infirm patients who cannot transport or move themselves to the local hospital to be examined by a proper clinician will be monitored by a representative sent by the physician to take notes of the symptoms and report back to the physician who will later prescribe a diagnosis to the patient. Telehealth can also be observed in ancient African cultures or living, where villagers would usually use smoke signals to warn other neighboring villages of any disease outbreak.

The coming of the internet and the increasing spread of ICT in traditional ways of care have revived and led to the renaissance of Telehealth. The rapid increase in portable technological devices such as laptops and mobile devices in our everyday life has increased the need for Telehealth to come into practice again. Telehealth is not only bound to medicine or health alone but, the scope has been expanded to accommodate promotion, prevention, and education as well.

In recent years, the integration of smart home technologies, i.e., wellness and health devices and software, Internet of Things (IoT) have increased in the industry. Apart from that, healthcare organizations are steadily increasing their use and dependence on technology to make everyday life meaningful. Ideas like the use of self-tracking technologies, cloud-based technologies, and innovative data analytic approaches are being utilized to speed up the transformation of the healthcare system.

Telehealth requires a reliable and robust broadband connection for it to function effectively. The broadband signal transmission infrastructure can include wires, cables, optic fiber, and microwaves; these infrastructures need to maintain for the provision of quality Telehealth services. The data sent and received from the engaging parties can be dependent on the connection strength that is, the better the connection, the better the communication between both parties.

Once there is a need for Telehealth service, delivery can occur in four distinct domains which can be;

•    Live video: live video involves real-time two-way interaction which can be either patient to caregiver or provider interaction or can be between provider to the provider over a digital connection. This process can be used to substitute a face to face meeting or consultation as a result of this saving time and the cost in travel.

•    Store and forward: this refers to data collected, recorded and then sent to a health care provider electronically.

•    Remote patient monitoring: this includes the patients’ medical and health data that are being collected and transferred or sent to a provider elsewhere who will continue to monitor the changes that are likely to occur in the data. This process can be widely used for patients who are currently undergoing care such as rehabilitation, chronic care or the elderly clients who wish to stay in their various communities or homes as opposed to a care facility.

•    Mobile health: mobile health includes the use of any mobile devices to transfer or send any health information such as education, monitoring, and care. This process might include the use of applications or text messaging services like appointment reminders or public health warning systems.

The technological advancement of wireless communication devices has resulted in significant developments as well in Telehealth. This tool allows patients to monitor their health conditions by themselves. This advancements also leads to the proper use and utilization of the devices by health care professionals to treat patients for example in surgery. Technological developments in Telehealth are essential to improve health care, especially the delivery of health care services.

Telehealth can assist healthcare systems, organizations and providers to expand the access to quality health care while improving the quality of rural healthcare. The burdens and challenges that are usually experienced by rural patients can be significantly minimized to reduce mortality rates, problems like transportation can be considerably reduced to accommodate more patients.

Telehealth also allows small rural hospitals to provide quality healthcare services at lower costs and in the local healthcare facility which will, in turn, benefit the rural patients as they will no longer be required to travel long distances to access specialist care. Patient transfers can be well avoided when attention can be provided locally. This scenario helps to keep bed spaces open for patients who require critical care.

There are numerous importance or benefits that Telehealth offers to both the patient and the health care provider, some of which are:

•    Telehealth has helped to broaden the access to emergency care providers in real time for proper evaluations and consultations in local providers. There are pockets of well-trained health care providers who offer these services can be reached via Telehealth to rural emergency rooms.

•    Patients can also be well engaged in home monitoring during medical visits by helping them manage their medical conditions. “Bridges to Care Transitions-Remote Home Monitoring and Chronic Disease Self-Management” is an example of a Telehealth remote monitoring program that assists patients who have chronic diseases to be well managed right in their homes.

•    Long-term care services that are offered through Telehealth can provide specialized care to elderly populations who reside in long-term care facilities in rural areas. Telehealth technology allows specialists who are located in urban areas to connect with these patients in rural long-term care facilities with chronic health problems.

•    The online therapy and remote counseling that is being provided to the patients through Telehealth can help to link up the rural residents with public behavioral health and mental counseling services for more natural treatment.

•    Apart from Telehealth and telemedicine, telepharmacy is also included to extend the access to pharmacy services which may include medications and medication counseling at rural healthcare facilities and community pharmacies.

•    The use of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones can significantly improve communications with patients and other providers.

•    Patients who do not speak or communicate in English can also be reached through the aid of interpreting services to enable proper communication.

Although many branches of medicine have wanted to fully embrace Telehealth in its field of operation for instead a long time, certain risks and barriers stand on the way of total integration of Telehealth into best practice.