Telehealth―Delivering Healthcare at a Distance

By September 29, 2016 No Comments

It is said that “laughter is the best medicine,” but if you’re worried about cholesterol, chronic disease, rehab or an insulin shot, speedy streamlined and secure communications can be the real antidote. Wi-Fi has significantly changed how healthcare organizations are utilizing technology―and turning to telehealth―to expand their reach into senior care.  Online connectivity augments communication between doctors, diagnostic centers, clinics, healthcare providers and more. Another study shared by HIMSS Analytics found an uptick in acceptance and an increase in familiarity with telemedicine―a 65% adoption rate by hospital respondents and 34% by physician practices.

So, What Defines Telemedicine Anyway?

Different forms of healthcare consumerism are molding the future of healthcare, with telehealth being one of them. One can now consult a doctor in California from his home in Houston. This is one of telehealth’s main strengths―the capability to make healthcare more user oriented.

In other words, telehealth can be defined as a key application of IP-based communications and is associated with the provision of healthcare services through the use of multiple technologies, from consumer health apps to video consultation. Its offerings come under the broad ambit of tech tools that deliver virtual medicine, health diagnostics and patient education services. This technology has reached the retail market as well, with national companies such as Walgreens launching their own telehealth programs and applications (apps) directly to consumers.

The Federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) defines telehealth as:

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.”

In the context of senior care, we can say that most older people want to remain in their homes. With assistive devices, telehealth technology and non-medical senior care, they can now age comfortably in place.

Telehealth Technologies Modalities

Within this expanding field, telehealth technologies enable the exchange of all types of data, i.e., voice, video, pictures, pathology or radiology images and device readings, between patients and healthcare providers. According to the Centre for Connected Health Policy (CCHP), telehealth technology includes four distinct domains:

Synchronous or Real-Time Technologies. Real-time telehealth or synchronous telecommunications connect a healthcare provider to a patient for direct care, or to other healthcare providers for consultation and collaboration, or a combination of the two. Most of these interactions employ video conferencing or telephone-based interaction.

  • Video conferencing: Video integrates audio, video, computing, and communications technologies in telehealth for patient-healthcare provider consultations, discussions and health education. The technology requires a live presence of the healthcare provider and patient or the medical specialist in an interactive environment. Video conferencing display units with a codec, peripheral cameras that have PTZ features and audio components such as microphones and speakers all require high-bandwidth Internet connection to work efficiently.
  • Patient Monitoring, mhealth or Mobile Health: Telehealth technologies used in the home, also known as telehomecare, use devices to remotely collect and send biometric data to a home health agency or a remote diagnostic testing facility (RDTF) for interpretation by a health care provider. Such applications may include a specific vital sign device, ECG monitor, blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter or peak flow meters that can help homebound patients or senior citizens oversee the monitoring process or supplement the use of visiting nurses. mHealth and mobile health are umbrella terms that incorporate mobile or wireless communications to transmit tele-health-related data and services.

Asynchronous or Store-and-Forward Technology Asynchronous technology allows for electronic transmission of telehealth-related information, video, images and audio files that are used when healthcare providers and patients are not available at the same time. A patient usually prepares an electronic consult package that includes the patient’s history, diagnosis, x-ray, video, photos and emails and then places it on a web server. The receiving healthcare provider then reviews the package and follows up with recommendations and a treatment plan. A store and forward technical environment usually includes a personal desktop/laptop/tab, secure wireless communications, encryption software and digital peripheral medical devices.

Radiology, for example, boasts high usage of telemedicine applications. These simply require a digitized version of a film transported over a telecommunication medium. However, if a small amount of bandwidth is used, images can be transmitted instantaneously, but heavy files or packets of information may dictate greater bandwidth requirements.

Innovations in IP communications, telehealth, wearables, IoT and mobile health apps are resulting in increased patient satisfaction due to a highly improved connected experience. A need exists to integrate all relevant medical device images and data from the telehealth technology to the patient’s electronic health record. A smooth interoperability of these systems could dramatically streamline a healthcare providers’ workflow and improve the healthcare system.

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