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What is telehealth?

Industry News | Sep 14, 2015

A new trend is emerging in the health care industry, one where you may not have to make an in-person visit to the doctor. According to Medical Economics, the growth of telehealth has come seemingly out of nowhere, and as a result, many of today's physicians have been caught off guard. The rapid growth of telehealth has led to an increase in competition between the physicians who have implemented such systems, and other health care organizations.

What is telehealth?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, telehealth involves the use of telecommunications technology to provide long-distance health care. Topics may include educational material for patients, medical professionals and public health administrations. This new area of health care has been made possible with the rapid advancement of technology, and specifically, video conferencing.

The Internet has connected patients and doctors like never before. From your smartphone, you can easily video call your doctor and discuss health-related topics. Or if you prefer, you can do this from your computer with special programs like Skype.

Early adopters are health care systems that employ physicians for around-the-clock help. Medical economics said these adopters are leading the charge into a brave new world.

Four health professionals talking to each other. Two are displayed on computer screens.Telehealth is helping connect doctors and patients.

Who offers it?
Seniors will likely have to check with their doctor and health care organization to see if they offer telehealth services. The number of providers is quickly increasing.

"Any healthcare system with multiple hospitals in a region is likely to consider doing this," said Jennifer Gingrass, a principal with ECG Management Consultants, in an interview with Medical Economics.

Telehealth is an intriguing option for doctors and senior patients because of the benefits it provides. Patients may be able to schedule a virtual visit with their physician to discuss lingering issues, or for a checkup. More serious illnesses, however, would still likely require an in-person visit. If a patient suddenly felt ill late at night, they could call a physician who is on standby and discuss their symptoms.

In an interview with mHealth Intelligence, Dr. Kevin Biese of UNC Hospital said telehealth is helping to improve the quality of health care.

"In those cases - in the language of care transitions, we talk about red flags - the hope is by using care managers and giving them the tools they can use to be more efficient, red flags can become yellow flags and you can catch patient's' conditions before they need to go to the ER," Biese said.

Governments taking notice
As digital technologies continue to enhance the lives, governments are passing legislation to ensure there are telehealth guidelines in place. According to The National Law Review, 29 states have passed a telemedicine commercial reimbursement law. Delaware became the latest state to enact such legislation.

Essentially, the law requires medical insurers to cover services that are provided through telehealth and telemedicine. Although these are virtual services, they must be covered equally as in-person visits.

If seniors are interested in telehealth, they should talk with their provider. Likewise, they will want to have the best computers to ensure video and sound are as sharp as possible.