It is well said that health is real wealth, not a piece of gold or silver, but with times it is observed that humans have grown too careless about healthcare. This has spiked the responsibility of healthcare providers. Globally, the healthcare industry is under continuous threat because of rising chronic conditions and shortage of healthcare professionals in all developed countries. As a solution to this threat, Telehealth is gaining its popularity. With owing the advancements in mobile technology, telehealth now can be applied in multiple provider types with maximum integration. When the pandemic has dawned upon humanity, the concern for getting the healthcare needs addressed is increasing. Data predicts that the crisis has turned a major crowd towards virtual healthcare.
Although we all wish it didn’t take a pandemic to drive telehealth forward, for better or worse, it did. The emphasis is now on telehealth in a big way, and with good reason. Previously only about 25% used telehealth, but amid the crisis, 59% are more likely to use the health services now. The demand for telehealth is increasing, but many customers remain confused or uncertain about its effectiveness.
Outlining Telehealth and Telemedicine
The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies as it supports long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration. These technologies include the internet, streaming media, videoconferencing, and terrestrial and wireless communications.
According to a WHO report, the many definitions highlight that telemedicine is an open and constantly evolving science, as it incorporates new advancements in technology and responds and adapts to the changing health needs and contexts of societies.
Telehealth and telemedicine are still used interchangeably, but telehealth has grown to encompass a wider variety of digital health programs and activities. In order to understand the dichotomy of telehealth and telemedicine, it is essential to define telemedicine first. Telehealth is distinct from telemedicine because it applies to a broader variety of remote healthcare facilities than telemedicine. Although telemedicine refers primarily to remote clinical services, telehealth may apply, in addition to clinical services, to remote non-clinical services such as physician training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education.
The reasons to embrace telehealth:
Its purpose is to provide clinical support.
It is intended to overcome geographical barriers, connecting users who are not in the same physical location.
It involves the use of various types of ICT.
Its goal is to improve health outcomes.
Embracing Telehealth amid Crisis
Pandemic has forced people to lock inside their houses and restrain from unnecessary movement. Despite the lockdown, all the essential services are made available for people such as groceries and medical care. But, people are unsure about visiting the medical facilities amid crisis. For instance, the COVID-19 has the worst outbreak in the US claiming 160 million people which is nearly 49% of the US population. With a drastic effect like this, people are refraining from attending the medical facilities. But as healthcare is a priority now, masses are turning towards telehealth or virtual health.
Some people still are in need of their physicians, and exposure to telehealth will help make that possible. As with all technology, there might be limitations, but telemedicine has a major role to play not only in the screening of COVID-19 symptoms but also in accordance with routine needs and follow-ups. One of the certified physician Laurie Fashakin, of Derrow Dermatology Associates, shared “Our patients have been responsive and open to the telehealth option. What’s nice about telehealth is we can see all our patients. It’s important when treating chronic conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis that patients continue to have access to us and their medications. Virtual visits make this possible during this crazy time.”
Encountering Telemental Health Potential
As said in crazy times like this, mental health has been suffering the most. Mental health has been on a constant uphill pedestal, with cities and states closing non-essential services on a near-daily basis, and as unemployment rates ascend, this outcome is not surprising. The feelings of anxiety and isolation have surged amongst individuals, and with people already facing mental health issues are at their worst. Data suggest that around 47% have reported that their anxiety is high and about 51% reported feeling very isolated. There is a huge demand for remote behavioral or mental health services.
Virtual health can improve access to mental health services for people with high rates of anxiety and social isolation at a time when many in-person appointments are being limited. However, for therapists, there’s an added challenge of building trust with their patients when there’s a digital barrier between them. Years of restrictive federal and state laws have compelled therapists out of telehealth, and now mental health professionals are struggling to migrate online—often with no guidance on best practice or even assurance that treatment can continue after coronavirus fades.
The opportunity for this change has been huge for a long time, but legislative and reimbursement barriers have stopped it from happening. However, now reimbursement obstacles are crumbling. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established a $200M COVID-19 Telehealth Program to help eligible healthcare providers continue to treat patients with the help of telehealth tech. This is a great initiative and looking at the potential of telemental health, it might be present even after the crisis.
Global Health Emergency Aiding With the Exposure
Before COVID-19, generally, physicians were not charged at the same amount for telehealth visits as would usually be compensated for in-office visits. It left little reason for doctors to fully accept telehealth. With the public health emergency and as many doctors’ offices are closed, Medicare has lifted almost all of these limitations and extended coverage, allowing for the delivery of telehealth services to a much wider range of patients. That is good news for patients and physicians alike. Telehealth will provide a source of income for doctors during a very difficult period, thus equipping their practice for potential virtual treatment.
Such reforms have made telehealth into a financially viable choice for practices that wish to remain open during the current public health emergency and provide continuing treatment for their patients.
The crisis has benefitted the healthcare industry with the required exposure and considerable growth of the telehealth market. The factors contributing to the growth of the global telehealth market are a rising number of patients suffering from chronic diseases, a surge in the number of geriatric populations, and an inclination toward home healthcare. Rapid urbanization in developing countries, high smartphone penetration, and the launch of various app-based services are some of the other factors that are expected to fuel growth in the target market. Due to these factors, the market is estimated to grow at 22.67% for 2019-2026. A research has forecasted that a large growth in the Asia-Pacific telehealth market in the forecast period of 2019-2026. This market growth will also help individuals expecting to enter telehealth jobs and services.
Tech Advancements Improving Telehealth
Video-only telehealth technology may inherent limitations, but when you combine medicine with technology, the possibilities are infinite and major investments are made in telehealth. The convergence of telehealth-connected tools and the capability of the patient to access them easily would continue to expand the level of treatment that could be provided and potentially challenge in-person telehealth visits. For instance, a study summarized that digital health and telehealth combined will help the field of cardiology become more automated.
Just as smartphones and televisions continue to develop, so will the telehealth-enabling technologies. We can expect a lot of innovation coming in this area; it’ll be interesting to see if regulations can keep up with the potential.
Telehealth plays a significant role in the COVID-19 crisis for now. Acceptance by both patients and healthcare providers would help lay the groundwork for maintaining its place in the future of the continuum of care. Just as the concept of robotic-assisted surgery seemed a little too futuristic not too long ago, they’re here to stay. To succumb to the importance of telehealth decreases the immense potential for the immediate and long-term future of healthcare.
Envisaging Telehealth Pathway
Telehealth has finally found its foothold in the healthcare industry as the crucial contribution of telehealth to keeping people safe cannot be overstated. But, amid the crisis, each industry is pushed into the virtual world with 10 years of change in a week. Not all were prepared for the change, but this might help us prepare for the virtual world we anticipate in the future. Telehealth is a vital part of that virtual world and it needs to be closely examined.
Currently, the spotlight is on telehealth in a big way, and for a good reason. It will embrace the assessment needed to make decisions on the potential extension and availability of telehealth. It would also be a lesson on how telehealth services will best be used in possible public health emergencies. To conclude, it seems telehealth is here to stay beyond the pandemic and we need to embrace the ways that it will impact and improve the organizations. We can envisage the pathway for telehealth as, initially slow adoption, but then a significant foothold, and finally ubiquity.