Library Telehealth Programs
Access to healthcare services through telehealth (“care at a distance”) is still in its very infancy across the US. We only know of a handful of libraries that have established an infrastructure and even fewer have a steady stream of telehealth appointments.
One of the most recent initiatives that we are aware of is the Delaware Library System’s Get Connected program that was launched in 2021. Also in the news in 2020 was a library north of Dallas, TX, that launched a telehealth service in response to Covid. Another initiative that launched in 2022 is the Health Connect program in Maine.
There even is a mailing list of interested librarians that is maintained by Nick Martin, the project manager for the Delaware project.
Overall, however, it appears that telehealth at libraries is still a largely untapped potential and we envision that through our work in Washington state we can add to the body of knowledge around how to best design and launch a successful library telehealth program.
Beyond Telehealth to TeleServices
While access to healthcare at the library definitely has its merits, once the infrastructure of a private space to conduct video visits is established, the possibilities of what types of “teleservices” patrons could access is (virtually) endless.
Possibilities include preparing for a job search, getting signed up for health insurance, receiving assistance with social programs, communicating with the social security administration, or participating in TeleCourt services.
In addition to telehealth and teleservices, some libraries are also offering loaner technology, such as Chromebooks or internet hotspots. Other libraries are providing digital literacy training on preparing for a telehealth visit using their own technology.
The expansion beyond telehealth is also well within the scope of population health that aims to address social determinants of health and to increase health equity, which these services can address in addition to the medical and behavioral health needs.
Technology and Challenges
To provision access to telehealth and teleservice, three technology models have emerged: a stand-alone booth (such as the one pictured in this article’s main image), a designated room, or an enclosable setup in a multi-purpose room. With those configurations technology and installation cost can range from $1,500 to $15,000, depending on the chosen solution and the library’s existing infrastructure.
The main challenges, however, do not lie in the technology but rather in the workflows, the staffing, change management, and in creating awareness.
For telehealth to work well, the experience must be carefully designed to satisfy clinicians, patients, and the library staff. Clinicians and library staff must be well-informed about the availability in order to promote its use.
A successful launch of telehealth services in libraries thus requires a close collaboration between the leadership and staff of the individual library as well as the clinicians, nurses, and schedulers at the clinical partner, in order to make telehealth a resounding success.
So maybe the next time you go to the library to read a book, bring your health insurance card and you may also be able to see a doc!