The revolution in digital technology has transformed our lives, and electronic advances are expected to expand. At the same time, personal attitudes toward technology developments , digital health care and counseling are also changing positively. Younger generations and older adults have started to enjoy the outcomes of the recent technology progresses. Soon, smart gadgets are expected to play an important role in health care and day-to-day management of the patients, and hence will be able to renovate medical services and facilitate real improvement in the patients’ self-management. The challenge is how to make most of these technical advances patient friendly, and explore ways to avoid the risks, particularly in regard to privacy. This article discusses the growing role of telehealth in standard health care, the facility and impact of using digital technology in day-to-day patients’ management and the best evidence available from those using digital technology on the front line.
The intersection of medicine and technology can be a confusing place. Policy makers, vendors and advocacy groups often use imprecise language or throw out technical terms inconsistently. I’m sure we’re guilty of this from time to time. Although the terms telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably, there is a distinction between the two.
The term telehealth includes a broad range of technologies and services to provide patient care and improve the healthcare delivery system as a whole. Telehealth is different from telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. While telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services. According to the World Health Organization, telehealth includes, “Surveillance, health promotion and public health functions.”
Telehealth is a subset of E-Health, which includes the delivery of health information, for health professionals and health consumers, education and training of health workers and health systems management through the internet and telecommunications.
Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth that refers solely to the provision of health care services and education over a distance, through the use of telecommunications technology. Telemedicine involves the use of electronic communications and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit. Telemedicine technology is frequently used for follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management, specialist consultation and a host of other clinical services that can be provided remotely via secure video and audio connections.
Just to throw another term into the mix, we should note that the WHO also uses the term “telematics.” According to them, “Telematics for health is a composite term for both telemedicine and telehealth, or any health-related activities carried out over distance by means of information communication technologies.”
In short, all telemedicine is telehealth, but not all telehealth is telemedicine. Both are part of the larger effort to expand access to care, make health management easier for patients and improve the efficiency of the healthcare delivery network.
Telehealth is emerging as a critical component of the healthcare crisis solution. Telehealth holds the promise to significantly impact some of the most challenging problems of our current healthcare system: access to care, cost effective delivery, and distribution of limited providers. Telehealth can change the current paradigm of care and allow for improved access and improved health outcomes in cost effective ways.
Telehealth increases access to healthcare:
- Remote patients can more easily obtain clinical services.
- Remote hospitals can provide emergency and intensive care services.
Telehealth improves health outcomes:
- Patients diagnosed and treated earlier often have improved outcomes and less costly treatments.
- Patients with Telehealth supported ICU’s have substantially reduced mortality rates, reduced complications, and reduced hospital stays.
Telehealth reduces healthcare costs:
- Home monitoring programs can reduce high cost hospital visits.
- High cost patient transfers for stroke and other emergencies are reduced.
Telehealth assists in addressing shortages and misdistribution of healthcare providers:
- Specialists can serve more patients using Telehealth technologies.
- Nursing shortages can be addressed using Telehealth technologies.
Telehealth supports clinical education programs:
- Rural clinicians can more easily obtain continuing education.
- Rural clinicians can more easily consult with specialists.
Telehealth improves support for patients and families:
- Patients can stay in their local communities and, when hospitalized away from home, can keep in contact with family and friends.
- Many telehealth applications empower patients to play an active role in their healthcare.
Telehealth helps the environment:
- Reducing extended travel to obtain necessary care reduces the related carbon footprint.
Telehealth improves organizational productivity:
- Employees can avoid absences from work when telehealth services are available on site or when employees can remotely participate in consultations about family members.
- These examples illustrate the some improved outcomes and cost savings being achieved by Telehealth and telehealth programs:
- Home monitoring of chronic diseases is reducing hospital visits by as much as 50% by keeping patients stable through daily monitoring.
- The national average for re-admission to hospitals within 30 days following a heart failure episode is 20%. Telehealth monitoring programs have reduced that level to less than 4%.
- Timely provision of treatments that effectively reverse the consequences of a stroke have risen from 15% to 85% due to the availability of telestroke programs.