To put it simply, telehealth represents the use of telecommunication technologies to help promote better healthcare practices, as well as prevent and treat illnesses. Remember the last time you called your doctor and asked about medical advice? That is a more basic telehealth method, but it had been around for quite some time now.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic created a global public health issue, but not only for patients affected by the coronavirus, but also for the rest of the population, who found it difficult to get access to normal healthcare.
As experts point out, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced a brutal acceleration in digital healthcare environment. In the UK, for example, telemedicine was almost unheard of until the pandemic. But as people found it more and more difficult to make it to in-person consultations, which dropped by 90 percent, virtual doctor-patient meetings are becoming more and more frequent.
The need for telehealth is growing
Telehealth comes in many forms and can be used in many branches of medicine. Broadly, all of these activities fall into two categories:
- Asynchronous telemedicine – this englobes store-and-forward technologies, as for example, online platforms that allow doctors and patients, or doctors and doctors to exchange medical documents faster.
- Synchronous telemedicine – this type of telemedicine is performed in real-time, such as online therapy sessions or consultations.
As we learn to adapt in the era of Covid-19, telehealth can help improve not only access to proper healthcare but also the safety of both healthcare providers and patients. Its many advantages, such as availability, reduced costs, and convenience, make more and more people consider telemedicine as a viable healthcare option.
Still, none of these advantages would have been possible without rapid technological advancements. Five of the most important ones will be analyzed below.
1. Wider access to the internet
While telemedicine can be done over the phone as well, the internet has made it much more accessible and accurate. Take, for example, psychotherapist sessions. While you can talk to your psychologist over the phone, doing so via videoconference allows the specialist to observe non-verbal communication signs as well. This allows for more accurate evaluations and also provides a much safer environment for patients to open up to their therapist, as many people find it easier to talk about their problems when they are not in the same room with the other person.
Wide access to the internet has made it easier for patients to connect with specialists in various fields of medicine, including the newly-popular topic: medical marijuana. A person awaiting evaluation for a medical marijuana card in AZ can now get approved much faster by using online platforms that connect licensed medical marijuana doctors with patients that need them.
2. Better and more accessible cybersecurity technology
Techniques such as data encryption, which protects information using complex mathematics, can improve security when sending electronic medical records, thus reducing the risk of medical identity theft.
Privacy and security are one of the major concerns with telemedicine, especially since more and more cybersecurity attacks make the front page of the news. This aspect concerns patients and healthcare provides alike and has been a hot topic of discussion lately.
Technology is the one to help again, as better and improved cybersecurity software gets developed. People have better access to information, so that they can learn more about how to protect their privacy when using the internet, as well as to software that can help them put in practice what they learn.
3. Electronic health records
If there is one thing that has the potential to expedite the diagnostics process and allow doctors to prescribe better treatment, that’s electronic health records. This is something the healthcare world hopes to transition to as soon as possible, as it has the potential to eliminate humane error and make telemedicine more accessible.
EHRs allow hospitals and doctors to share information about patients faster and more efficiently, ensuring the patient receives care in a timely manner. For example, if a patient has an online appointment with their doctor, the doctor can access the patient’s file in a matter of seconds and, knowing the patient’s medical history, can provide more efficient care.
4. Remote monitoring tools
As technology advanced, a variety of remote monitoring tools are now available, allowing doctors to keep an eye on their patient’s health remotely. These remote monitoring tools include:
- Web-based and mobile apps: apps are not only fun but can now actually save our lives. These types of medical apps can read and send important information to your doctor, such as heart rate and glucose levels. This can be especially useful for diabetes patients.
- Wearables: wearable technology is another form of remote monitoring, which allows doctors to gain important knowledge about their patients without being physically near them. For example, these devices can monitor pulse, tremors, sleep patterns, and even brain activity.
- Home monitoring devices: these are especially useful for older patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, as they can detect changes in normal activities. For example, if a person falls, an alert can be sent to the physician to inform them about a potential issue.
5. Smartphones and connected devices
We use our phones for nearly anything these days, so why not use them to gain access to better healthcare? Smartphones allow the use of communication and health monitoring apps, which can send direct messages to a physician and let them know if a patient needs help.
By using a smartphone, a patient from a remote location can communicate with their therapist or doctor, as well as send and receive medical documents. Texting is another way doctors can communicate with patients and provide information faster. This way, they won’t have to wait for days or even weeks to get their prescription renewed or express their concerns.
Advancements in technology have now made telehealth even more accessible, especially for people in remote locations that have limited access to a doctor’s office. This is especially important now, as we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic that goes on for almost a year.
Louise Campos, social media, content marketing and communications strategist