How Telehealth Is Impacting Patient Healthcare
Healthcare is undergoing a revolution. Care is going digital, but it need not be distant.
For millions of chronically ill, hospitalized, and elderly patients, receiving high-quality healthcare without leaving the comfort of one’s house is already a reality. Telehealth is growing rapidly.
In some cases, it’s outpacing different care settings like urgent care centers, retail clinics, and ambulatory surgical centers in growth. Technology, supportive regulations, and the prospect of lowering healthcare delivery costs could be behind the growth of telehealth, which could benefit both patients and providers.
So, telehealth is growing around the world. But what is telehealth exactly and what is the value in it for patients and the healthcare sector as a whole?
Telehealth is the use of information communication technologies (ICTs) for the purpose of providing telemedicine, medical and local dental surgery education, and health education over geographical distance.
Telemedicine, in turn, is the virtual delivery of healthcare services without an in-person visit. For example, an elderly or chronically ill patient can utilize ICT-based systems to obtain instructions and guidance on certain procedures at home; or, a patient who has recently suffered a stroke or been in a car accident can receive online speech therapy without leaving the house.
Telehealth can encompass preventative education, evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. The telecommunication tools used can be widely used, everyday ones like smartphones, computers, and video conferencing.
1. Elderly can access healthcare from home
Telehealth allows people to access healthcare from the comfort of their own home. For the elderly, this accessibility can provide much-needed convenience, encouraging them to seek healthcare when they need it.
Many seniors are already comfortable with drawing on technology tools for healthcare-related solutions.
For example, two in five seniors already check their symptoms online before consulting with a doctor. So for a lot of the elderly population, accessing healthcare through ICT-based platforms could be a logical extension that offers convenience and accessibility.
2. Overcome geographical distance
Telehealth can improve access to healthcare services for those based in regional, rural, and remote areas.
Instead of the patient traveling to a major city to consult a doctor or specialist, he/she can use ICTs like video conferencing to speak to their doctor and obtain the necessary healthcare advice.
Since it eliminates the need for any travel, even those living within major population centers can benefit from telehealth for consultations that don’t need to be in person. As such, telehealth can enhance access to healthcare and healthcare outcomes for all patients, regardless of their geographical location.
3. Accessible training and guidance for healthcare workers
Telehealth is valuable also because it can make it much easier for healthcare workers, especially those in remote locations, to receive guidance and training from professionals located elsewhere. This training and advice can assist with better diagnosis, ongoing care, and referrals for patients.
Relatedly, telehealth, in this way, can also open up new possibilities for healthcare delivered collaboratively. This could be by on-site healthcare workers in remote locations collaborative with doctors, specialists, and other professionals based in major cities.
4. Reduce demand for healthcare facilities
Telehealth can improve access to healthcare while reducing demand for healthcare facilities. In turn, this could minimize the demand for already crowded services and create significant cost savings for the healthcare sector.
For specialists and other healthcare providers, telehealth offers new business models and delivery modes that could ultimately benefit the patient with a more efficient service.
These delivery models could see the provider reaching more people at a lower cost. Additionally, reduced space demands could eventually mean hospitals and clinics can be built to be smaller, lowering the environmental impact of building new facilities.
5. Improved patient care quality and satisfaction
Telehealth has the potential to drive higher patient engagement, improve quality of care, and promote higher satisfaction, especially for rural and remote communities.
It offers a new channel for doctors and other healthcare professionals to engage patients in self-care, improving treatment outcomes while lowering costs for both patients and providers. For example, hospitalized patients can be supervised via telehealth while recovering at home, which could support quicker recovery.
Potential challenges associated with telehealth
Telehealth offers a range of valuable benefits, but it comes with potential challenges that should be considered. Virtual consultations could impact the accuracy of the diagnosis. Remote monitoring requires patient commitment to track and share data; otherwise, the healthcare provider might be working from fragmented data.
In turn, these can lead to patchy healthcare with gaps as well as overuse or inappropriate use of medications. Finally, regulating and licensing providers can be a challenge for the government. However, while telehealth might not be a complete substitute for in-person healthcare or emergency care, it can be a valuable complementary offering.
Telehealth has value for both patients and providers
The potential value in telehealth can apply to the patient side as well as the healthcare provider side. Enabling technology, the potential for significant cost savings in delivery, and demand from patients looking for accessibility and convenience could be driving the rise of telehealth.
Yet telehealth’s advantages go far beyond cost efficiencies and accessibility - to opening up new collaborative and training possibilities for remote healthcare workers as well as better quality of care overall.
While telehealth provides real, compelling value for all stakeholders, it’s important to keep its potential challenges - from the risk of misdiagnosis to healthcare gaps and regulation - in mind. Regulators and healthcare providers should proactively address these potential issues rather than leaving the responsibility to patients who may not be as well informed.