Did you recently have a doctor’s visit via a phone call or video chat? Or while in the hospital, watch as your primary provider linked up via video to a specialist thousands of miles away to discuss your case? These and many more are examples of telehealth. 

Yet what exactly is this technology? Today we’ll be covering this important healthcare resource from what services are offered to why it works best with medical computers especially in hospital settings.   

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth — sometimes mistakenly called telemedicine — allows a provider to offer health care to patients without an in-person office visit. This is done through telecommunications technology like Wi-Fi. 

Medical services offered through telehealth include:

  • Addiction assistance
  • Behavioral health management
  • Diabetes monitoring and control
  • Home healthcare
  • Remote care for Hospice
  • Goals for controlling hypertension  
  • Healthcare for musculoskeletal disorders
  • Value-based care cost and containment

Telehealth and Telemedicine: Aren’t They the Same?

The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as 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. Telemedicine on the other hand is considered a subset of telehealth. It refers specifically to remote clinical services like urgent-care consultation via video for a non-life-threatening condition. 

Telehealth: A New Technology

Telehealth is a fairly recent innovation. A few hospital systems and university-based medical centers in the 1950s began experimenting how to put the concept of telemedicine into practice. Medical staff at two different health centers in Pennsylvania, which were located about 24 miles apart, transmitted radiologic images via telephone. Later in 1959, physicians at the University of Nebraska were able to transmit neurological examinations to medical students across campus via a two-way interactive television. By 1964, they had built a telemedicine link that allowed them to provide health services 112 miles away at the Norfolk State Hospital. 

Why Telehealth is Beneficial

The participating healthcare groups and universities mentioned earlier developed telehealth to reach patients in rural areas and other out-of-the-way places. Public organizations like the Public Health Department, the Health and Human Sciences Department, and even NASA and  the Department of Defense greatly expanded the service. 

Today, telehealth is used for:

  • Limited physical contact which reduces everyone’s exposure to COVID-19 
  • Provide distance-learning, meetings, supervision, and presentations between practitioners
  • Increased access to specialists who are located far away from a patient’s hometown
  • Allow two or more clinicians to discuss a case over video conference 
  • Allow surgeons to practice robotic surgery through remote access
  • 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

Disadvantages and Limits of Telehealth 

Telehealth has addressed many gaps in healthcare especially those involving distance between providers and patients. There are limits, though.

  • There may be problems with the technology. One example is the patient may not have Wi-Fi connectivity. Another is the software used between the two parties is incompatible with each other.  
  • The provider at the other end of a virtual visit may not have a patient’s full EMR if they’re not their regular patient. 
  • The patient may be responsible for coordinating care with their regular provider after the virtual visit.
  • The provider may not be able to make the right diagnosis since they’re limited to what they can see of the patient on-screen and their words. Or they may need the patient to come in for a lab test.
  • Some insurance companies may not cover telehealth visits.

What are the Five Major Ways Telehealth is Used?

Telehealth is generally broken down into types based on how it’s used. Five of the most well-known ones include:

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, and respiratory rates. This is done through electronic devices like wearables, mobile devices, smartphone apps, and internet-enabled computers. 

RPM can allow for earlier detection of complications and identify patients who need to seek medical attention prior to in-person appointments. Moreover, chronic conditions can be more readily and efficiently managed resulting in higher quality care and outcomes as well as reduced costs.

Store and Forward

Store and forward telehealth refers to the capture, storage, and transmission of patient health information. This is also known as asynchronous healthcare delivery.

CAT Scans, MRIs, X-rays, photos, videos, and text-based patient data are examples of data that’s gathered and sent to specialists and other members of a care team to evaluate patients and assist in their treatment. 

Technologies used for store and forward telehealth include secure servers and routers that temporarily house incoming packets of information and then route them to the appropriate end users. Secure email platforms are also used for store and forward telehealth.

Synchronous Telehealth

Synchronous telehealth is two-way communication. It’s the most well-known type of technology-based healthcare telehealth service. It includes any video call or live chat software that allows a healthcare provider to communicate with a client/patient in real-time, or live. Consultation is conducted across distance using two-way, interactive software housed in desktop computers, laptops, tablets or other mobile devices like smartphones.

Physician-to-Physician Consultations

Medical professionals can communicate with each other quickly and easily using telehealth technologies. Physicians can connect with a great many more specialists than previously possible, all without leaving their own office. Many telehealth communication tools allow instant messages to be sent, eliminating the game of phone tag that often happens when using the telephone.

This improves the level of care they can provide to patients. 

Medical Imaging

Telehealth solutions speed up the sharing of X-rays, scans, and other images between a treatment team and external consultants. A radiologist consultant for example can examine images at any time and from any distance. They do not need to be in the same town or state as the patient. Patients get the very best care from healthcare providers no matter where they are located, without having to travel.

Maximizing Telehealth with Medical Computers

Telehealth is done primarily online with internet access. Technologies involved may include computers, cameras, videoconferencing, the Internet, smartphone, and satellite and wireless communications.

Healthcare groups have found medical computers to have several advantages versus off-the-shelf models.  

Medical Grade – Providers using telehealth will be connecting with patients from medical facilities like an office or a hospital. These places can house medical devices that may be vulnerable to the electricity electromagnetic emissions from computers.  

Medical computers that are medical grade have been built, tested, and certified (called 60601-1) to work with the above devices without interference. Providers can safely chat with off-site patients or their family members while surrounded by delicate equipment found in the ICU or OR. 

Rugged Build – Healthcare establishments like hospitals run 24/7, and the staff expect their equipment like medical tablets to be able to do the same. They can withstand the treatment because they’re built with industrial grade parts and have a rugged construction. 

These features are also beneficial outside the hospital. Take for example a patient who’s housebound as part of a hospital at home program. While chatting with the provider via telehealth, they drop a provided tablet a number of times. Thankfully, it continues to work fine having been engineered for these falls. 

High Levels of Security – Healthcare organizations deal with a lot of information. These can range from patient details to financial records. Regulations like those from HIPAA require these be protected and secured especially if stored in the cloud. The penalties for failure can be quite stiff.

Medical computers offer several ways to protect this information. RFID badges or CAC cards means only the right cardholder can launch the appropriate program like a patient’s EMR. Software like Imprivata OneSign provides additional security while making it easy for the provider to visit virtually with their patients. 

Closing Comment

Telehealth extends a broad number of healthcare services virtually from reaching patients remotely to connecting providers with each across continents. If you’re looking into how medical computers fit with telehealth, contact a representative from Cybernet. 

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