Telehealth During Pandemic
Telehealth during pandemic era has become more prevalent. Learn about telehealth as a healthcare resource.
What Is Telehealth?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many changes to how we live our lives—some good and some less so. However, one of the major beneficial changes in recent years revolves around telehealth.
Social distancing and lockdowns have made it difficult for some people to access the medical care they need, and telehealth offers a solution to this problem. Telehealth refers to the use of technology to facilitate remote health care. Though telehealth has been accessible for many years, the importance of recent safety measures has encouraged more people to utilize telehealth during the pandemic.
Some examples of telehealth services include:
- Virtual visits with a healthcare provider
- Remote patient telehealth monitoring, in which a healthcare provider can check up on patients while they are at home
- Surgeons using robotic technology to complete a surgery remotely
- Phone, text, or email reminders for health screenings
- Sensors that alert caregivers when dementia patients have left the house
- Watching online videos from a health provider about how to use a medical device
What’s the Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine?
Telemedicine and telehealth can sometimes be used interchangeably; however, telehealth is a broader term. Telemedicine is more specific, referring to distinct remote clinical services, while telehealth refers to any type of health care offered online, such as online healthcare training, administrative meetings, and other services in addition to telemedicine. 1
A telehealth appointment would look like a regular doctor’s appointment, where patients speak with their doctor about their health concerns; the only difference is that the appointment would take place virtually, either over the phone or using video chat. Telehealth for new patients is also a common practice. 2
What Types of Care Can I Get Using Telehealth?
Telehealth patients can receive many of the same services they would access at an in-person doctor’s appointment. Whether the appointment is telehealth for new patients or established patients, online health experts can help with many concerns. Some examples of common telehealth medical services include:
- Wellness visits or general health care
- Treatment for some skin conditions
- Eye exams
- Nutrition counseling
- Treatment for recurring conditions like migraines or urinary tract infections
- Discussion of lab test results or x-ray results
- Mental health support via online therapy or counseling
- Prescription management
- Urgent care issues, including coughs, sinus infections, and stomach aches
Additional Uses of Telehealth
Additionally, many healthcare providers utilize telemedicine and telehealth to pre-screen patients for infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Pre-screening can occur during a telehealth appointment; some providers may use other telehealth technologies to pre-screen for symptoms, like chatbots. After the pre-screening, providers can more effectively treat patients, providing specific directions for high-risk patients and other at-risk patients.
Benefits of Telehealth and Telehealth Information
In April 2020, just a short time after the pandemic began, the overall utilization of telehealth for office visits and outpatient care was seventy-eight times higher than in February 2020, before the pandemic was in full swing. 3
This demonstrates a timely benefit of telehealth—the limited physical contact involved in telehealth allows for a lower chance of exposure to COVID-19 for patients and healthcare workers who have been among the most susceptible to catching the virus. Many agree it’s best to avoid public places when sick, not just with COVID, but with any illness. Fortunately, telehealth allows patients to stay home to prevent spreading illnesses or picking any up from others.
Using telehealth comes with many other benefits, especially for people who live in rural areas or have difficulty accessing transportation to and from office visits. With telehealth, a phone or computer and WiFi are the only two components needed to receive health care, allowing anyone to get effective health care wherever they are located.
For example, if a patient lives far away from a specialist or care facility, utilizing telehealth can be an effective alternative to receiving urgent treatment remotely. Additionally, telehealth is a great option for people with chronic illnesses or mobility issues who find it difficult or painful to attend in-person appointments. Lastly, the convenient nature of online appointments makes it a great option for anyone with a busy schedule. 4
Telehealth During Pandemic and the Future of Telehealth After COVID
Telehealth medical care has been invaluable during the pandemic. Doctors can use telemedicine to pre-screen patients for any possible infectious diseases, preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses. This can save time for doctors and patients and ultimately benefit everyone, especially older adults, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals.
Will Telehealth Continue to Be Used Even After the Pandemic Has Passed?
Experts agree telehealth is here to stay. The future of telehealth after COVID will likely involve updating technologies and training providers to use new telehealth information systems. Although concerns about contracting COVID may decrease in time, telemedicine’s convenience, safety, and efficacy are not going anywhere. 5
Are There Limitations of Telemedicine?
While telehealth is gaining traction, it is important to note a few potential limitations. For example, healthcare providers and policymakers are still catching up with evolving telehealth information technologies. Additionally, some providers haven’t yet recognized the importance of telehealth for keeping potentially infected individuals out of hospitals and clinics.
Another limitation of telemedicine is that some providers lack the hardware needed for effective virtual appointments, such as equipment with good sound and image quality. Broadband and Wi-Fi connections must also be considered to provide a good patient experience.
How Are Hospitals Adapting to Telehealth During Pandemic?
Along with clinics and doctor’s offices, more and more hospitals are beginning to provide telemedicine and telehealth. Currently, hospitals are finding ways to expand their telehealth services and train staff quickly and effectively on new telehealth information. Though the rush to train clinicians and implement telehealth in hospitals is essential in handling COVID-19 cases, hospitals and other healthcare providers can view it as a long-term investment in providing quality healthcare. 6
Ultimately, telehealth medicine has been an extremely timely resource during the pandemic. Telemedicine and telehealth appointments can be as convenient, accessible, and equally effective as in-person treatment. While the telehealth system varies per provider and is always evolving, the changes that take place in telemedicine over time will continue to benefit both patients and providers.