The definition I use for Telehealth is “delivering healthcare at a distance”, which includes distant health education (TeleEducation), remote treatment (TeleTherapy) and Telemedicine.
For Telemedicine, as a subset of telehealth, I used the definition of “practicing medicine at a distance” — i.e., providers examining, observing, consulting, and treating patients. Telemedicine includes:
- Interactive Patient Care: i.e., consults, visits, and exams over a secure, live audio/video connection, sometimes augmented by sharing visual information
- Remote Patient Monitoring: e.g., periodic blood pressure and weight or continuous monitoring and transmittance of activity level and heart rhythm
- Store-and-Forward: e.g., faxing EKGs, sending pictures of melanomas, and the whole domain of TeleRadiology
Simply put, Telehealth is an alternative way to deliver healthcare or to practice medicine. The only difference to our traditional care is that the patient and the physician (or other providers, educators, or therapists) are not at the same physical location. Telehealth provides physicians easy means to reach more patients outside of their clinic’s current geographic area, thus making core competitive advantages (such as expertise in a specialty area like oncology or genetic counseling) available to a larger population.
The Benefits of Telehealth
Telehealth, which is mostly about the processes and not the technology, therefore serves as an excellent strategic tool to meet the often referred triple aim of improving the quality and experience of care (a home run for telehealth), improving the health of populations (which telehealth facilitates), and reducing the per capita cost of health care (think: preventing admissions, accelerating recovery).
Telehealth can also conveniently facilitate patients’ adherence to the agreed-upon care plan, since the care team can reach and interact with patients more frequently, which dramatically improves outcomes, thereby minimizing overall healthcare cost.
And Telehealth allows caregivers, such as the patient’s family to participate more in the care even though they might not be in close proximity to their loved one, thereby further increasing care plan adherence. Family members can, for example, join an interactive telemedicine visit or see their loved one’s regular vital signs or activity level, which also provides them with an important piece of mind.
Furthermore, Telehealth is very effective for the efficient management of chronic diseases, since the tracking of the vital signs facilitates the detection of the onset of disease very early on, thereby preventing traumatic, dangerous, and expensive hospitalizations or readmissions.
Last but not least, Telehealth, in particular interactive Telemedicine, is especially appreciated by less mobile patients who either need to arrange for transportation or where transportation to the nearest clinic becomes a financial challenge due to rising gas prices and fixed incomes. The ability to receive specialty care in the familiar comfort of their home or at least their hometown clinic definitely improves health outcomes.
It is these advantages of Telehealth (delivering healthcare at a distance) and Telemedicine (practicing medicine at a distance) that really can help a healthcare organization to deliver the best care patients need, when they need it, where they want it.
In the next part I will cover the next galaxy in the Digital Health Universe: Connected Health.