Telehealth Tech: A Shift Towards Remote Healthcare Services

Telehealth Tech: A Shift Towards Remote Healthcare Services
Telehealth Tech: A Shift Towards Remote Healthcare Services (image credits: freepik.com)

Key takeaways:

  1. Telehealth refers to the provision of medical advice, consultation, and education by a physician or other healthcare professional in one location to a patient at a different location using ICT technology, such as mobile apps, video conferencing, streaming media, and wireless communications.
  2. Telehealth is often referred to as remote patient monitoring (RPM). Sometimes, it is used interchangeably with telemedicine. However, telehealth is a broader concept and encompasses telemedicine and RPM.
  3. Patients and doctors benefit from telehealth as both parties can engage virtually in remote healthcare discussions. Health monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment through telehealth allow patients to improve their lifestyles while living in distant locations.
  4. Telehealth often provides virtual patient monitoring and care for chronic illnesses and diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Virus prevention and treatment is another good application.
  5. Telehealth is an effective way to store and share healthcare information with all the necessary stakeholders, such as clinics, hospitals, health insurance companies, students, and other stakeholders involved in patient care and medical training.

Introduction

Telehealth technology is a growing field that has been around for a decade, but recent advances in telecommunications, information technology, and artificial intelligence have made it accessible to more people and organizations. What was once a field reserved for the clinical business world has become readily available to anyone with an Internet connection.

According to Fortune Business Insights™, the global telehealth market will reach the $637 billion mark by 2028 and demonstrate a CAGR of 32% between 2021 and 2028 (Fortune Business Insights™, April 14, 2022).

As telehealth technology becomes increasingly popular, it will likely enable the shift towards long-distance clinical healthcare and education services, where patients can seek medical advice from professionals without traveling to medical facilities and public/private health administrations. However, these advances affect everyone, from doctors and hospitals to medical students and patients, disrupting how clinical and health-related training services will be delivered in the nearest future.

In this guide, we will explore how telehealth technology is emerging as a tool to augment the healthcare services provided in hospitals and clinics. Telehealth can improve doctors’ productivity, reduce human error and provide faster access to medical professionals.

What Is Telehealth?

In simple terms, telehealth describes the practice of providing professional digital healthcare and training services remotely. Unlike traditional approaches where patients seek face-to-face medical advice from a doctor at the hospital, telehealthcare allows individuals to consult with physicians, nurses, and other health professionals remotely through computer-mediated means without ever leaving their homes.

What defines telehealth:

  • Use information and computing technologies to ensure distant healthcare delivery and virtual care (Deloitte, 2021).
  • It covers many digital health services, including virtual medical consultations, telediagnosis, robotic surgery, video medicine, mobile health, and more.
  • It may also refer to consumer electronics and video technologies that enable remote (in-home) patient monitoring (RPM) and telepresence.
  • Educate and train medical professionals. Educators can give lectures to medical students in remote locations, and students can receive live feedback from their teachers and peers. In addition, instructors can guide medical students through real-time anatomical demonstrations using 3D visualization technology.

The Benefits of Telehealth

According to the World Health Organization, telehealth aims to improve patient engagement and reduce healthcare delivery costs. In addition, telehealth-enabled systems can increase the efficiency of healthcare services by improving patient access to professional care and resources via broadband Internet connections.

The main advantage of telehealth is that it offers 1) patients faster medical treatment and 2) providers more efficient ways to deliver care services.

Here are a few more advantages of telehealth for patients and doctors:

  • Remove travel as a barrier to care. Telehealth eliminates the obstacle of traveling to seek medical attention, which is especially beneficial for individuals in rural areas. They do not need to pay for a taxi or ambulance and can access medical advice from the comfort of their home. As a result, patients become more engaged with medical professionals.
  • Realize a higher return on investment. Telehealth makes it easier for healthcare facilities to identify patients with chronic conditions and improve their management and overall health. As a result, clinics and hospitals reduce operating costs and increase productivity.
  • Improve patient safety. Telehealth allows patients to access remote medical advice and treatment without leaving their homes. This case is exceptional for physically disabled people who may need to go out of the house for a registration process or to a clinic for an emergency procedure.
  • Better health outcomes. Telehealth allows caregivers to work together, sharing medical data and improving the quality of care. As a result, patients can access better and more affordable healthcare services.
  • Professional health-related education. Telehealth also covers distant virtual training and education, allowing medical students to collaborate with experts and learn from other medical schools or residents in different areas. These services offer students and practitioners a broader range of opportunities, especially those in remote areas.

When Telehealth Isn’t Applicable

However, telehealth is only sometimes good, depending on the level of integration between healthcare services. For example, if a patient uses telehealth for primary healthcare, it can be a good thing. But it cannot be perfect if he uses it for specialist care.

Here are the drawback and limitations of telehealth:

  • It does not replace face-to-face interactions between patients and doctors. Telehealth is suitable for patients who can access and understand medical information independently.
  • It is not a substitute for emergency healthcare. For example, if a patient has a severe trauma or is bleeding out, telehealth cannot help him immediately.
  • Telehealth is technology dependent and unavailable in places with limited communication and hardware infrastructures.
  • Telehealth is primarily suitable for acute care. Chronic conditions (heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc.) may require patient monitoring and behavior change.
  • It does not eliminate the need for medical workers. For example, if a patient needs surgery treatment, it is impossible to provide this service through telehealth.

Underlying Technologies: How Does Telehealth Work?

To understand how telehealth works, let’s go through a few underlying technologies: telecommunication, mobile, big data, and artificial intelligence.

Telecommunication

Telehealth uses telecommunication technologies that enable remote healthcare service delivery. Such services become available through an encrypted channel, where the data is transmitted over the Internet or other computer networks.

With the growth of the Internet and its many applications (electronic mail, mobile applications, IP telephony, file sharing, and video streaming), healthcare providers can deliver digital health services to patients in various out-of-hospital settings, including homes. In addition, using the Internet allows healthcare providers to communicate with patients and share medical data over long distances.

Mobile

Telehealth uses the power of the cellular phone, which is widely available and interoperable globally. In addition, mobile devices and apps enable patients to contact healthcare providers via voice, text messages, and video calls.

iOS- and Android-operated smartphones are typically powered by built-in video cameras and sensors. These devices collect health information and send it to physicians and hospitals. Smartphones help patients quickly contact medical professionals for advice or to discuss symptoms or concerns.

Big Data

Telehealth involves collecting and analyzing large amounts of medical data across different healthcare facilities and institutions. This data, which includes medical images, videos, and patient records, is too large for human inspection. However, organizations can use computer-aided systems to analyze these data in real time. 

Medical Big data can then be used for medical research, creating new tools and technologies to improve healthcare delivery. For example, this technology helps correlate patient data across different medical institutions, effectively reducing healthcare costs.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Traditionally, doctors and nurses had to rely on their medical knowledge and experience to diagnose patients. They had to collect information from the patient and then weigh it against the reference knowledge they had.

By using artificial intelligence-powered medical tools, doctors can now rely on automation to scan patient records and compare them with millions of other cases. In addition, AI makes it possible for machine learning algorithms to predict the best treatment plan for a particular patient.

How Does Telehealth Work?

Three key processes are involved in telehealth: diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring.

Diagnosis Process

The telehealth diagnosis process entails using pre-medical imaging, data collection, and consultation. The first step involves collecting patients’ medical information through wearables, on-body sensors, and smartphone/tablet apps. Next, the collected data is sent to the medical professional through a secure communication channel, allowing the healthcare provider to analyze and diagnose the patient’s health condition.

Telehealth diagnosis is helpful for patients who live in remote locations and have limited access to medical professionals.

Treatment Process

The treatment process involves remote virtual monitoring, patient participation, interaction, and real-time consultation. Individuals with chronic conditions can benefit from telehealth treatment because it allows them rapid access to medical professionals for advice and support.

Telehealth therapy works with other forms of therapy and treatment, such as in-person counseling. If a patient needs multiple forms of treatment, telehealth therapy allows for an integrated, seamless experience.

Health Monitoring Process

Medical monitoring tools include wearable and non-wearable diagnostic instruments. Such devices help assess the patient’s health, monitor his symptoms, and collect medical data.

Telehealth monitoring helps patients maintain optimum heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature without visiting the hospital. In addition, patients can use wearable devices such as heart rate monitors or oximeters to maintain healthy fitness without leaving their environments.

Telehealth and Medical Education

Telehealth is increasingly used in medical education to provide learners with hands-on medical experience. For example, medical faculty students can learn how to prescribe and administer certain medications by observing real-life patient data via telehealth platforms.

Medical professionals must have extensive knowledge about the human body, and telehealth allows doctors to learn new skills through patient interaction. This digital health technology can help reduce medical errors and improve patient outcomes.

Telehealth has also been applied in clinical training programs to enhance the practical knowledge of junior doctors. For example, a medical institution in Australia allows its students to practice their clinical skills and experience medical procedures through a telepresence robot. This type of training helps doctors become more confident and competent before they enter the workplace.

Questions and Answers about Telehealth

1) How can telehealth technology help prevent the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, Ebola, and Zika?

Infections like COVID-19, Ebola, and Zika spread rapidly because they are transmitted through human contact (bodily fluids, including vomit, blood, and feces), and people don’t seek immediate medical attention when having symptoms of fever. The most crucial advantage of telehealth here is that it allows medical professionals to monitor patients remotely at any time.

In a telehealth consultation, a doctor can examine patients distantly to determine whether they get infected with an infectious disease. The doctor can then alert local public health officials and begin treatment immediately to help stop the further spread of the disease.

Telehealth.HHS.gov explains that telehealth changes how the United States government manages COVID-19 prevention and treatment.

2) What does telehealth mean for people with chronic illnesses?

Patients with chronic diseases can benefit from telehealth therapy because it allows them to interact with medical professionals quickly and easily. Telehealth therapy is beneficial for people with chronic conditions requiring a lot of engagement with healthcare professionals.

Telehealth allows patients to receive medical advice, treatment, and support from medical professionals remotely. This technology increases patient engagement in their health and reduces the time between symptoms and treatment for patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes. As a result, patients can maintain a healthy lifestyle while living in remote locations.

3) Telehealth vs. telemedicine: what is the difference?

Despite their overlapping definitions, telehealth and telemedicine are not the same.

Telehealth is a broad term encompassing telemedicine and a range of medical programs that use the Internet to provide medical advice, treatment, and training.

Telehealth defines the provision of medical advice, consultation, and education by a physician or other healthcare professional using technology. It is often referred to as remote patient monitoring (RPM).

Telemedicine is a type of telehealth and a subset of RPM. It refers to the transmission of medical information to deliver healthcare services from a medical professional to a patient over a distance. Telemedicine systems often use video, mobile, and other ICT technologies, allowing healthcare professionals to connect easily with patients.