A Primer on Telehealth

Telehealth: “The use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.” (Health Resources and Services Administration)

In a world where everything seems to be right at your fingertips, it is still hard to believe that doctor’s appointments can be conducted from the comfort of your own home, your car, or your workplace. Through the convenience afforded by mobile phones, one can contact a doctor or other provider simply by pressing a few buttons. It’s almost too good to be true.

Technologies which allow remote interactions and information exchange between patients and care providers are collectively known as telehealth or telemedicine. This can include video conferences with a doctor, remote monitoring of vital signs, and various mobile applications.

Many health systems and providers now offer the option of virtual appointments with a doctor or other clinician. A provider can ask questions, make a diagnosis, and call in a prescription for many common conditions. Virtual appointments allow for convenience and access to care, especially when the physical healthcare facility is far away. This convenience is beneficial because it makes it easier for patients to fit wellness into their busy everyday lives. This is especially important in rural communities, where doctors are scarce.

A relatively new development is the introduction of apps that allow for cognitive behavioral therapy to be conducted remotely. Apps such as TalkSpace and BetterHelp connect a patient to a certified psychologist or therapist chosen specifically to meet their needs. For a monthly fee, the patient can speak to the therapist through the app’s text message service at any time during the day, request video or phone conversations, and complete worksheets shared by the therapist. This is an exciting innovation for those who are housebound by disorders such as agoraphobia or social anxiety.

In the past few years, fitness trackers and pedometers have exploded in popularity. The most popular, FitBit, has recently partnered with Google to allow health data to be shared with doctors. The new platform, FitBit Care, will assist providers in managing their patients’ health and fitness measurements, including sleep patterns, diet, activity levels, and heart rate.

Another application of telehealth is remote patient monitoring. For example, patients with diabetes may wear a glucose monitor and insulin pump linked to their mobile phone which can send the results in real time to their provider. With this information, the provider can view the metrics and make decisions regarding care, possibly preventing harm to the patient.

All of this sounds exciting, but there are some security concerns associated with telehealth. The apps and services introduce another party besides the provider and the patient. This increases the risk of compromised health data. Smartphone apps may share sensitive data with third parties and the average person’s phone does not meet the privacy standards required by most EMRs.

About the Author: Claire Means

Claire is a Database Development Specialist at Extract Systems. She started at the company as a document verifier, which gives her a unique understanding of the redaction software. Her attention to detail and high rate of accuracy prove her dedication to Extract’s success. Claire holds a certificate in Web Design from Madison College and her special interests include web analytics and search engine optimization.