Telehealth is rapidly becoming an essential part of our society. It’s making healthcare solutions more accessible for all, allowing us to consult physicians and get medical advice without traveling. Similarly, telehealth is also making physicians’ lives significantly easier because they can now go through a higher number of patients in a relatively shorter time frame. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Telehealth has several applications in long-term patient care, remote therapies, and mental well-being that are now being explored. And the best part is innovations in telehealth are likely to make healthcare more affordable.
9 Important Things To Know About Telehealth
There are several important things you might want to know about telehealth that can help you make informed decisions about using telehealth for your own medical issues.
- Telehealth and Telemedicine are two different things. When consulting a physician or specialist, they will offer you a diagnosis and a prescription. It’s okay to use the two terms interchangeably. But telehealth is the “superset” between the two. A lot of healthcare elements (like Teletrauma, Teleneuropsychology, and Telerehabilitation) that come under the umbrella of telehealth are not covered under telemedicine.
- Telehealth found traction during the coronavirus pandemic. In the first quarter of 2020, telehealth visits in the US rose by almost 50%. And that’s almost nothing compared to the second quarter. Between mid-March and mid-June, almost 9 million people benefitted from telehealth service. People preferred reaching out to physicians and healthcare professionals through the internet instead of visiting healthcare facilities and exposing themselves to the risk of catching the virus.
- Two major challenges the telehealth sector is facing are compliance and adoption rates. Even though legislation regarding telehealth has existed since 1996, there are still several issues to iron out (legally). It’s a complicated issue because, thanks to the advances in technology, telehealth is evolving at an unprecedented rate. Restrictive legislation where everything is in black-and-white can stifle this growth, and loosely-worded legislation might prevent people from trusting this part of the healthcare system. The adaption rate, on the other hand, is likely to increase since, after 2020, people’s trust in the internet has increased. Since we depend on it for everything else in our lives, why not our health as well?
- The affordability and accessibility of telehealth are expected to increase the number of people seeking medical care. People tend to avoid treatment, medication, and therapies that are either too expensive or difficult to get, and they keep putting these things off until they become unavoidable. But with telehealth, many such people might seek out medical help, which will allow healthcare professionals to nip many problems in the bud. This can be groundbreaking because preventive care can prevent several medical conditions from worsening and keep the cost and intensity of treatment to a minimum. In the long-term, this can also reduce the burden on the healthcare system.
- According to a 2017 study, the average cost of a telehealth visitation/consultation is about 54% of the cost of an actual on-site visit. The average telehealth visit cost was $79 compared to $146 per physician office visit. With relaxed legislation and better platforms, the cost of telehealth might go down even further, making it even more affordable. One reason behind the lower price is that physicians or medical facilities that offer telehealth services save a lot of money in overhead costs.
- The relationship between insurance and telehealth is still maturing. Many insurance providers might require their clients to co-pay for the telehealth services they avail themselves. Many medical insurance services, including Medicare, tried to bridge the cost-gap between in-person visitations and telehealth sessions. The situation might vary according to the state because not all states have made it mandatory for insurers to add telehealth coverage in their packages. However, the situation changed quite radically during the pandemic.
- Security and confidentiality is a significant concern when it comes to telehealth services. Even though the physicians might take every precaution to ensure that their patients’ medical condition stays private, the platform, app, or software they use to communicate and remotely connect with their patients’ might be susceptible to hacks and leaks. This is why it’s recommended to only use a reliable and reputable telehealth platform. Ideally, you should use a service that’s HIPAA compliant. HIPAA is a federal law that covers all electronic communication, and HIPPA compliant telehealth platforms will ensure that the communication between a patient and a healthcare provider is secure and airtight.
- According to an estimate, about 70% of the visits to a clinic, ER, or another medical facility might be unnecessary. It’s not that 7 out of ten people who visit a physician or healthcare facility in-person don’t need medical help or advice, but these visits could have safely been replaced by a simple phone call. That estimate might be very ambitious, but that gives us a glimpse of the conventional healthcare market that telehealth can capture.
- About one in every five Americans lives in a rural area, and only 11% of total physicians practice medicine in rural areas (that’s about one in ten). That’s a significant gap, and telehealth is a great way to bridge it. Not every small town or remote city has a decent medical facility or enough population to warrant a full range of specialists, but the internet is almost everywhere. Through telehealth, people from rural areas can have access to top-tier medical advice and consultation, even if there isn’t a specialist in their 50-mile radius.
Telehealth is the next stage of healthcare evolution. Affordable diagnostic equipment, health-sensors in our phones and smartwatches, drone delivery of medicine to your door-steps are indicators of where healthcare, treatment, and telehealth is heading. Telehealth can also play a key role in long-term care, preventive care, psychotherapy (especially since it can offer anonymity, something in-person visitations can’t), and several other areas of healthcare. It can connect remote locations and give equal access to healthcare professionals to everyone, no matter where they reside. And while long-distance surgeries are still a rarity, advances in robotics will also make it a reality and powerful new addition to telehealth.