How Telehealth Works: Help During Coronavirus
In a world that has long relied on close human contact, everyone is looking for a new normal during coronavirus.
Just as people have been able to shop without being in a mall and work remotely without being in the office, so too can healthcare adapt to the lack of physical proximity. This urgent need to digitize healthcare has made telehealth mainstream almost overnight.
Growth in Telehealth
Telehealth is not new. Virtual healthcare has been around for at least a decade and has been growing steadily but slowly in the past few years. The American Hospital Association reports that telehealth has grown from 35% of hospitals using it in 2011 to 75% using it at least partially by 2017.
Telehealth companies have seen their stock increase tremendously in recent weeks as they gain popularity and become essential for people’s access to healthcare. One telehealth company’ stock price reached all-time highs during coronavirus, while aggregate the S&P 500 remains 14% lower than its yearly start, as of April 24, 2020.
In order to endorse telehealth and make its process less complicated, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) temporarily suspended a number of rules that were previously considered barriers to virtual healthcare.
How Telehealth Works
Common ways of understanding telemedicine right now are for triaging patients before they even get to the hospital or doctor’s office, particularly relevant while screening for coronavirus. Containment strategies, like quarantining, have forced physicians to connect with patients from a distance, to triage, and to follow-up with Covid-patients as well as people with chronic illnesses.
Beyond being beneficial during the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth consultations and in-person visits are now considered interchangeable. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) puts it as simple as using a phone, smartphone or laptop with a shared link to enable video, or other electronic devices.
Telemedicine or virtual care delivery includes quick health virtual check-ins, telehealth consultations, store-and-forward technologies and remote patient-monitoring.
A quick health check-in is 5 to 10 minutes brief conversations with a physician and includes audio-only platforms, telephone calls, emails and messages. The goal of a virtual check-in is to determine if a telehealth consultation or, alternatively, an in-person visit are needed.
A telehealth consultation is a real-time audio plus video communication with a doctor. Due to the shift in rules from the HHS, clinicians are now able to connect with any person seeking care even if they do not have an established relationship with that patient. This means that any new patient can be virtually treated by any doctor as long as the patient is the one that establishes the connection and gives a documented consent.
Store-and-forward telemedicine is an asynchronous method to connect with a doctor. This method does not require a live interaction between a patient and their healthcare provider but rather relies on an online exchange of information. This is particularly useful for specialty access and simplifies doctor-to-doctor communication.
Remote patient-monitoring tools allow the physician to monitor the patient’s clinical status from a distance. This usually requires wearable devices and mHealth applications that transfer biometric data like blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and temperature.
Some online telehealth platforms offer a combination of these methods as well as access to care beyond the traditional health system. This non-traditional approach means no referral or insurance is required, though both can often still be used, following patient or doctor preference. Care in this scenario can come from a team of providers or specialists at once, as opposed to the traditional approach of scheduling multiple individual consultations with different specialists.
Telehealth Is Available to All
Telehealth is accessible to everyone, so long as that person has access to a cell phone or computer.
Paying for telehealth is also becoming easier. With the HHS rule change, patients covered by Medicare or Medicaid are seeing increased paid coverage for accessing telehealth. Private insurance companies are expanding their telehealth coverage as well, however, this varies from one provider to another. Even those without insurance can access care, particularly non-traditional digital care platforms.
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