Telehealth is the future of healthcare, changing how patients and providers interact and expanding healthcare services beyond traditional limits. Telehealth implementation focuses on the practical aspects of integrating telehealth into healthcare organizations, ensuring it runs smoothly to benefit patients and providers. 

In this post, we’ll unravel the concept of telehealth, exploring its advantages in healthcare and addressing its challenges. Additionally, we’ll provide a practical checklist for seamlessly integrating telehealth into your medical group.

What Is Telehealth?

Telehealth (sometimes mistakenly confused with telemedicine) allows providers to treat patients’ illnesses without physically being in the same room. This is accomplished through telecommunications technology like WiFi.

Telehealth is a relatively recent innovation. In the 1950s, a few hospital systems and university-based medical centers began experimenting with how to implement it. Nine years later, providers at the University of Nebraska could transmit neurological examinations to medical students across campus via a two-way interactive television. In 1964, they built a link that allowed them to provide health services to Norfolk State Hospital, which was 112 miles away. 

Telehealth continued to evolve but quietly out of the public eye. One of the reasons was that it was finding great success in rural areas. Patients living on remote farms or other out-of-the-way places could now reach specialists from a distance. 

Telehealth reached public attention worldwide in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients discovered they could safely contact their providers for non-urgent but important conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and pregnancy. 

Even after the pandemic ended, telehealth’s capabilities continue to keep it under scrutiny by the healthcare industry, which is always on the lookout to provide the best patient care within a limited budget. 

Telehealth vs. Telemedicine

Telehealth and telemedicine are often mentioned together. Many people think they’re the same and use the terms interchangeably; however, telemedicine is considered a subset of telehealth.    

However, this is not entirely accurate. According to the Health Resources Services Administration, telehealth is “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient care, as well as professional health-related education, public health and health administration.” 

Telehealth includes many non-clinical but healthcare-related practices. A provider remotely teaching medical students is implementing telehealth, not telemedicine. Providers meeting virtually to discuss an upcoming surgery is another example.

Telemedicine focuses on providing remote clinical services—for example, a provider giving an urgent care consultation via video for a non-life-threatening condition. The same would be true for a psychiatrist counseling a patient virtually (telepsychiatry). 

Benefits of Telehealth for  Organizations

In the ever-changing healthcare landscape, telehealth adoption is on the rise. This innovative approach offers several advantages to healthcare organizations. Here are the five main benefits of telehealth technology.

1. Virtual Connection In Out-Of-Way Places

People in rural areas may be many miles from a proper hospital. Providers can schedule house calls, but it takes an effort to reach a distant patient. This limits the number of people they can treat in a given day and wastes a great deal of time in transit.

Telehealth allows providers to visit these patients virtually. Making a diagnosis, prescribing medication, or consulting on long-term care are just a few tasks they can perform remotely. 

Providers can even take readings like breathing tests with help from the patient or an on-site caregiver. Regardless, the technology cuts transit time and allows patients without ready access to healthcare to receive qualified treatment. Providers give their distant patients genuine face time, reducing their anxiety and remaining in comfortable and familiar surroundings.

2. Remote Patient Monitoring

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) involves the reporting, collection, transmission, and evaluation of patient health data, including: 

  • blood pressures
  • cardiac stats
  • oxygen levels
  • respiratory rates 

The data is gathered by electronic devices like wearables, mobile devices, smartphone apps, and internet-enabled computers. Telehealth transmits it all to the provider and their medical staff, who can review it at their leisure, in real time, or a combination of both. 

RPM transmitted this way allows for earlier detection of complications and identifying patients needing medical attention before in-person appointments. Moreover, chronic conditions can be more readily and efficiently managed. This ultimately results in higher quality care,  outcomes and reduced costs.

3. Greater Healthcare Information Management 

Modern healthcare generates an enormous amount of information. CAT scans, MRIs, X-rays, photos, videos, and text-based patient data are examples of data that are gathered and sent to care team members to evaluate patients and assist in their treatment.

In the past, this information was recorded on paper and stored in file cabinets and boxes. This made information management cumbersome, especially if conveying information to off-site facilities like a provider out of state or even the country. 

Telehealth eliminates many of those issues. Store and forward telehealth, also known as asynchronous healthcare delivery, refers to capturing, storing, and transmitting patient health information (PHI). 

Data is stored in secure servers, routers, and email platforms and ready for providers and medical staff to retrieve as needed. Patients can also access their PHI per HIPAA. 

Any video call or live chat between a patient and provider (or other medical personnel) is synchronous telehealth or two-way communication. It’s the most well-known type of implementation of telehealth. The involved parties can communicate in real time despite the distance and bring up any necessary information from databases to make a proper diagnosis and treatment. 

4. Remote Wound And Trauma Care 

Trauma like physical injury and wounds need immediate attention. However, getting to the emergency room can take a great deal of time, and the provider won’t be able to diagnose appropriately until the patient arrives on-site. That can lead to issues with wound care and, in some cases, even worsen the injury.

What can telehealth do here? A lot. Using a tablet PC, the EMT can take a picture of the wound and send it to the ER while the patient is en route. Providers can perform a preliminary diagnosis without waiting until the patient reaches them.

They can recommend proper dressing and initial care for the wound to the EMT, who can help stabilize the injury and minimize the damage. The ER can also prep X-ray machines if broken bones are a factor and clear similar devices for immediate use when the patient arrives, reducing the time required to treat the injury.

5. Improved Provider-To-Provider Consultations

Medical professionals can communicate with each other quickly and easily using telehealth technologies. Many telehealth communication tools allow instant messages to be sent, eliminating the game of phone tag that often happens when using the telephone.

Providers can connect with many more specialists this way without leaving their offices. This improves the level of care they can provide to patients. 

Other benefits of telehealth’s implementation include:

  • Limited physical contact is very useful in protecting both patients and medical staff, as shown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Allow surgeons to perform robotic surgery remotely, even if they are miles away.
  • Get patient care after office hours. 
  • Support patients who are managing their health conditions like diabetes
  • Lower cost since virtual visits may be cheaper than in-person visits.  

Overcoming Challenges in Telehealth Adoption

Telehealth has addressed many gaps in healthcare, especially those involving distance between providers and patients. Technology does bring some challenges; thankfully, many are being handled by the industry. 

Lack of Technology Integration 

The patient may not have WiFi connectivity, or there may be an incompatibility between the EMR software used by all the parties involved. Solutions for these two include the installation of temporary WiFi connectivity at the patient’s residence to third-party companies, bridging the gaps between different EMR systems

Diagnosis Limitations 

The provider is limited to what they can see of the patient on-screen and what they say about their condition. This makes it much harder to make the proper diagnosis. Wearables on patients make it easier to gather more accurate information. Or the patient or their caregiver may have a medical-grade tablet onsite with suitable attachments like a pulse oximeter to collect and send the necessary data. 

Information Gaps 

The provider may not have a patient’s complete EMR at the other end of a virtual visit. This is especially true if they’re not on the provider’s regular panel of patients. Increased security measures (see below) may encourage hospitals to provide further access to medical records to more providers. 

Security and Privacy Concerns 

PHI is valuable to hackers, fetching high prices. Medical grade computers with Single Sign On and Imprivata can help make sure only proper medical personnel are accessing those records. 

Reimbursement and Payment Models 

Some insurance companies may not cover telehealth visits. Healthcare organizations are encouraged to have proper hardware and software solutions set up to show why telehealth is an essential part of patient care and should be reimbursed.

Telehealth Implementation Checklist

Healthcare organizations looking to implement telehealth into their network should review the provided step-by-step playbook to guide them:

  • Pre-Implementation Planning. Define the objectives and goals of bringing telehealth to your healthcare group. Example: Why do you want to do it now? Form an implementation team with duties like conducting needs assessments and compliance checks on all plans. 
  • Technology Infrastructure. All hardware, software requirements, and related tech issues are addressed in this step. These can range from compatibility with current networks, medical PCs best for the hospital setting, and telehealth platforms to security concerns (e.g., compliance with HIPAA).
  • Training and education. Because of telehealth’s unique ability to bring medical immediacy to patients from a distance, all involved staff will need training on its use. How to use the client software, troubleshooting, and proper conduct with patients are just a few of the subjects that will have to be covered in this step. Patients will also need to be educated about the service.
  • Workflow and process integration. Telehealth brings significant changes to many clinical workflows. Assumptions like directly taking the patient’s blood pressure go out the window. Those workflows must be addressed, and new protocols, like creating job positions for telehealth coordinators, may have to be developed.
  • Legal and reimbursement considerations. Telehealth is so new that reimbursement by insurance companies and the government can be confusing. To qualify, hospitals and medical groups must learn current reimbursement policies, including licensing and credentialing. 
  • Test and quality assurance. The medical group must test the new telehealth system before it goes live. Checklists of these tests must be developed, and the results of mock sessions will need to be properly documented after completion.
  • Launch and implementation. This last section deals with the pilot phase, where the system is brought live to a limited audience. An example would be offering telehealth only to pregnant patients. Or the service is only available at late hours (i.e., between 1 AM to 4 AM). The complete implementation process is only done once the results from the pilot phase are reviewed and deemed satisfactory. 

Telehealth: Unlocking the Future of Healthcare

Telehealth connects patients and providers without the need for inpatient visits. Technologies like WiFi and video allow both parties to communicate remotely, which brings many advantages, like 24/7 medical care access and protection from infectious diseases. 

Are you interested in knowing more about telehealth? Contact an expert here at Cybernet for more info. We’ll be happy to go over how the technology works alongside our medical-grade computers and how implementing it can provide many benefits.

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