Through telehealth platforms, patients can obtain access to remote consultations, monitoring devices and a large number of medical professionals.

Telehealth and telemedicine are hot topics among health professionals worldwide, and thanks to advances in smartphone and computer applications, consumers are beginning to jump on board. The use of virtual medical services is breaking down barriers, allowing unlimited accessibility to a wide number of people. According to a Virtual Visits Consumer Choice Survey, 77% of consumers are interested in using virtual healthcare, while 19% have already used the service.

The increase in consumer usage is attributed to the significant benefits and cost savings that telehealth provides. According to the Wall Street Journal, a simple telehealth appointment can save patients up to $115 per visit and result in potential savings of over $20,000 per medical facility.

Telehealth has made tremendous advances over the past decade. It has been especially beneficial for patients with mobility issues or those living in rural areas where managing medical conditions and locating specialists has been challenging. For these people, telemedicine can mean the difference between life and death. Through virtual visits and the use of artificial intelligence (AI), patients with limited mobility and chronic conditions can now have their vital signs, symptoms and treatment plans monitored from the comfort and convenience of their own homes at significantly lower costs than a typical visit at the clinic.

By tapping into telehealth’s unlimited capabilities, patients, providers and institutions can connect with each other to bring about a holistic expansion to modern healthcare.

Some of the advantages of telehealth include:

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Accessibility

Telehealth services enhance connectivity between patients and providers, increasing global care and accessibility. Patients located in areas with limited access to specialists are no longer bound by geography. Through telehealth platforms, patients can obtain access to remote consultations, monitoring devices and a large number of medical professionals. It also has the power to unite the healthcare community, bringing physicians, clinical and hospital staff members together to increase the quality of care.

Chronic disease management

Chronic disease is on the rise. Chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes affect the lives of over 117 million people. Patients with chronic conditions account for 81% of hospital admissions, 91% of all prescriptions filled and 76% of all physician visits. Remote monitoring platforms and resources such as medical grade wearable devices make it simple to measure readings such as blood pressure, weight and blood sugar to track symptoms, prevent complications and save lives.

On-site emergency care

Emergency departments are embracing telehealth services because of their ability to increase patient reach, reduce waiting times and ease the financial burden often experienced by clinics and hospitals. Telehealth is applied to the ER in several ways. For instance, if a patient is on-site, a remote physician can offer a consultation that can be logged by a hospital nurse and then used to order the necessary tests before the patient is seen. This method significantly frees up the on-site physician’s time, allowing for improved patient treatment times and turnover.

New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine is using telehealth in its emergency department with a program called Express Care. The pilot program, which is provided to patients with minor medical cases, has reported a dramatic decrease in wait and treatment times, dropping from 2 to 2.5 hours to 35 to 40 minutes.

Intensive care treatment

Telehealth is being increasingly used in ICUs where it is showcasing many of its benefits. New technology and AI platforms are enabling patients to be monitored 24 hours a day. This is especially advantageous in rural hospitals because it can instantly connect physicians to specialists in larger hospitals. This type of support allows patients to be cared for within the hospital rather than be transferred to another facility.

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Long-term care treatment

Long-term care facilities are also introducing telehealth into their institutions, facilitating specialized care that would normally be inaccessible to them. Transferring long-term patients can be costly and traumatic for the patient. To address these issues, providers have been implementing telehealth for consulting and monitoring purposes. This allows providers to identify health problems sooner, which often helps avoid hospital readmission.

Remote patient monitoring uses a platform that allows virtual visits while capturing critical patient data such as blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen saturation levels. This data can be monitored on a consistent basis and conveniently relayed to all the parties involved. Remote patient monitoring improves the quality of patient care and is an extremely efficient tool for physicians and other healthcare providers.

 The future of telehealth

As technology continues to develop at a rapid pace and consumers become more interested in achieving optimal health, an increasing number of applications will be introduced to help everyday consumers take control of their health. New players will also enter the market to respond to the rising demands.

Wearable apps

Wearable health apps and digital platforms are hitting the market with the anticipation of being integrated into clinical practice. The use of wearable devices will allow patients to proactively manage their health and prevent chronic disease by capturing relevant data. From routine checkups to injuries and illnesses, this innovative technology will bring health and wellness to the masses by facilitating all aspects of medical prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Reebok’s CheckLight, which helps detect head injuries, is a great example of wearable technology.

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Passive monitoring

 Smart technology is expected to get even smarter. As more homes are being converted into smart homes, the use of telehealth services, wearable tech and passive monitoring would play an important role in helping the aging demographic live longer and more independently. As opposed to long-term living facilities, intelligent homes will be more cost effective and provide greater comfort to its residents.

 Along with remote health monitoring, which can capture and monitor health data in real-time, the use of passive sensors will further enhance home care for the senior population.  These ambient sensors can easily monitor motion, pressure, heat, impact and sound, and even detect potential hazards such as falls and stove use. Remote health monitoring’s ability to track general patterns of living will become an indispensable tool for those wanting to protect their loved ones.

Growth sector

New areas of practice are emerging to meet the needs of growing segments, such as mental health. With as many as 60 million patients in the U.S. suffering from mental health conditions and a severe shortage of doctors to address their needs, the demand for telemental health is intensifying. Telemental heath is a growing resource that can help patients manage their behavioral health. Remote substance abuse counseling is also gaining momentum. While virtual visits make up the majority of services, an increasing number of hospitals are establishing telepsychiatric programs in their emergency settings.

Trends in policy and reimbursements

Telehealth policy trends are dynamic and rapidly evolving. Each state defines telehealth differently and has different regulations and reimbursement policies. Currently, Washington DC and 49 states provide reimbursement for some types of  live video services, but don’t cover costs for remote monitoring or Store and Forward.

Mary Gorder

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While telehealth adoption by government entities is slow, reimbursement policies are being revised to help eliminate barriers. New bills are being introduced to support telehealth, with new laws emerging in 2019 and 2020 to allow for the expanded use of telehealth services. Officials are working to make telehealth more accessible and affordable for patients suffering from specific conditions such as strokes and end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

In 2020, Medicare Advantage plans will accept telehealth as a base benefit of services under Part B. Twenty-two states have embraced  the interstate medical licensure compact (IMLC), which has pledged to “increase access to health care for patients in underserved or rural areas and allowing them to more easily connect with medical experts through the use of telemedicine technologies.” The importance of telehealth is increasingly being recognized by policy makers as the key to making healthcare accessible to all.

With increased participation, the future is bright for our communities. Telehealth will continue to grow, reducing the burden on our hospitals while improving patient health and optimizing the entire healthcare industry.

Mary Gorder is the founder and president of Drs. on Calls, a virtual telehealth company.

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