Although there are slight differences in their definition, both telehealth and telemedicine are relatively new concepts which are seeping into the public consciousness. This is especially true following the COVID-19 crisis, during which, telehealth played an important role in not overwhelming hospitals and healthcare providers.
But what exactly is telehealth? In this article, we’ll give you some definitions, show you the difference between telehealth and telemedicine, and give you some examples of how telehealth can be beneficial to patient care.
Read on reader…
Television, telephone, telework, telescope, telegraph...all common words in the modern lexicon. The prefix “tele” comes from the ancient Greek “tēle” meaning “far off or distant”, and this is exactly the definition of telehealth...remote healthcare provision through modern forms of electronic communication.
Healthcare workers can contact patients directly, providing care, advice, intervention and monitoring from any corner of the globe.
This is especially useful for patients in rural settings, patients with mobility issues or anyone who may have trouble getting to a hospital or clinic. In addition, in times of epidemic or pandemics, such as the above mentioned COVID-19 outbreak, when it’s preferable for vulnerable patients to stay away from potential contagions, telehealth also comes into its own.
Of course, this is not a new idea. In the modern age, doctors and nurses have been giving consultations by telephone since the 1950s and 60s. But modern technology makes the process much easier. Communication services such as Skype, Zoom and Whatsapp have made it possible for doctors to actually see their patients, making the process much more personable and, in some cases, making diagnosis easier.
Other than direct consultation, the internet also provides the means for remote monitoring. Think of a heart monitor connected directly to an app which can be monitored by a consultant in real time from anywhere, or an app where a patient can upload their own self-monitored health information, and you'll get the idea.
More outlandishly, remote surgery has become a possibility within the last 10 years and is now commonly used for certain surgical procedures. Using remote controlled robots, the surgeon doesn’t even have to be in the room. Although this may sound like science fiction, it is science fact and used in hospitals all around the world. Although currently limited in scope, this will become even more prominent in years to come.
Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, they do, in fact, have different definitions.
Generally speaking, the term telemedicine is more precise in its scope and usually refers to clinical services, such as diagnosis, prognosis or medical monitoring.
Image: Intel Free Press, via Wikimedia Commons
Telehealth, on the other hand, is generally used as a more encompassing term. This can include all the clinical aspects of telemedicine, as well as education on the prevention of illnesses, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, curative delivery, medical conferences, and many other aspects of healthcare.
Of course, the exact definition of each will depend on where in the world you are. In fact, the term eHealth is quite often used in place of either of the above terms, especially in Europe.
Telehealth can be split into various categories. Here is a list and of a few of the most common types:
Telenursing. This is often used to provide remote care to eldery patients, especially those living in remote areas and with mobility issues.
Telerehabilitation. This is one of the most common uses of telecommunications in healthcare. The very nature of rehabilitation services makes them a perfect candidate for telehealth. Physiotherapists can do consultations, direct exercises, and assess a patient through a video call.
Image: Ceibos, via Wikimedia Commons
Telecardiology. Nowadays, heart monitors can be connected to the internet, allowing a doctor to get instant, real-time feedback from electrocardiographs worn by patients.
Telepsychiatry / Telepsychology. Since a large swathe of psychiatrist care is spent talking to the patient, telecommunication technology can be very useful to psychiatrists and psychologists. They can easily assess patients, perform a diagnosis, or monitor a patient remotely.
Teledentistry. Yes, dentists can provide remote care too. Usually, this extends to consultation and pharmaceutical support only. They can’t get a drill in your mouth through a computer screen...yet!
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many sectors of healthcare which can be successfully adapted to telehealth and, as we have already said, this is a sector which is growing year on year, and one that exploded in popularity during the pandemic of 2020.
Obviously, this is an aspect of healthcare which has grown in parallel with our reliance on telecommunications. This means that it is still a fairly young discipline and it’s not yet everything it could be.
To begin with, a major sticking point, especially in the United States, where healthcare is provided according to insurance coverage, is who pays for telehealthcare. Many insurance companies are still stuck in the old mindset where patients must attend a healthcare centre in order to be reimbursed fully. They tend to limit their coverage to areas which are extremely remote and where specialists are few and far between.
In addition, the cost of telecommunications equipment and infrastructure, and staff training must also be a consideration for hospital managers working under ever tighter budgets.
Apart from financial considerations, there are also legislative issues to deal with. Because this is an area which is constantly developing as technology improves, there is still no consensus on best practice for this type of healthcare, although, presumably, this will come in the next few years.
The prescribing of medicines, for example, is a controversial point for some. Is it ethical to prescribe drugs without a full medical check up first? Is it legally acceptable to do this? Many would say no.
In fact, the biggest current argument against telehealth is that a “hands-on” consultation is much more thorough than anything that can be seen through a computer screen. Many would say that a proper diagnosis cannot be given without the doctor or nurse being able to observe, touch and monitor the patient first-hand.
Some of these concerns are certainly legitimate, although it may just be “fear of the new” that’s stopping telehealth from being fully embraced.
Whatever the case, there are some technological tools which can help the doctor make an appropriate patient assessment using telecommunications.
Since the majority of telehealth work is provided through video calls, which can be easily recorded, video analysis software such as Codimg can be extremely useful to doctors and nurses.
How does it work?
Well, that’s a whole other article, but basically speaking, the practitioner creates a template of the metrics they want to observe in the patient. This template can then be used to “tag” certain parts of the consultation, creating short video clips which are of supreme relevance to the doctor. These video clips can then be reviewed and analysed to help the doctor make the best possible diagnosis.
In addition to the video clips, Codimg will also make a register of the observed action, creating a numerical database which, again, can add statistical intelligence to the diagnosis. The videos and data can also be used to monitor the effectiveness and quality of care being delivered.
Obviously, there is much more to the software than this, and many more benefits to using it. We’d like to invite you to take a closer look at our website, where you can get an overview of how the program works. Also, take a look at our blog, where you can find some case studies on how video analysis can be applied to healthcare.
If you think that Codimg could be useful for your own telehealth practice, please get in contact with us. We’ll talk through your needs and set you up with a free trial of the software.
If you have any questions about any issues raised in this article, please contact us through any of our social media channels and we’ll be happy to answer any queries that you have.
Thanks for reading!
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