Just as technology has transformed just about every industry imaginable, it has also sparked changes in healthcare. Among many revolutionary shifts in the field, it led to the creation of telehealth, which gives people the ability to use telecommunication technology and electronic information to receive healthcare and health education remotely.
Recent evidence shows that more people are using telehealth services — especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The ability to receive medical care virtually during this moment in time could be monumental for the health of seniors and middle-aged people, who are the most vulnerable to the virus. But a recent survey shows that less than half of people between the ages of 50 and 80 rated their telehealth experiences favorably.
This is a great time for telehealth to protect patients and serve more than just the young. Older people often need more medical care, and telehealth makes that easier, safer, and less costly. By making virtual doctor visits possible, this technology keeps patients from having to make trips to the office while still enabling them to connect with their healthcare providers. Because of this ability to connect, telehealth provides users with better patient outcomes and less costly visits to the clinic.
The healthcare system was already under immense pressure due to understaffing and burnout, but the COVID-19 crisis has made that burden explode tenfold. As a result, telehealth solutions are not only convenient but also necessary for many patients who need care — especially those most at risk.
Telemedicine and Mobile Health in Today’s World
Telehealth is a broad term that covers two specific types of appointments: telemedicine and mobile health. It’s best used for minor issues and non-life-threatening medical concerns, such as the need for a quick symptom diagnosis or a check-in regarding a mild issue.
Telemedicine appointments are usually easy to access through health provider mobile applications, and they offer a way to get answers to non-life-threatening health questions. If patients need to talk with a doctor about something that can be shown in a photo or discussed over a brief phone call or videoconference, telemedicine appointments enable them to get rapid treatment or medical advice. I’ve used telemedicine appointments when traveling because it allows me to ask questions or have a quick consultation when I can’t physically make it to the clinic.
The other part of telehealth is mobile health, or mHealth, which involves the use of a tracking device — like an activity tracker or a blood glucose monitor — that syncs data to a system doctors can access and review. I wear a continuous glucose monitor, for example, that tracks my blood sugar throughout the day and syncs it to a mobile app. This form of mHealth has empowered me to understand how every bit of nutrition impacts my body, and my physician can access the information to track changes or variations to my blood pressure.
Making the Most of Telehealth Solutions
As the overburdened healthcare system is stretched even more during this time of crisis, telehealth will become the default method of receiving medical attention for nonemergency situations. Users of all ages should be empowered and comfortable using it. It will give patients the ability to be screened for less severe issues and, as a result, let hospitals more effectively use their physical resources to help people who have life-threatening illnesses.
Telehealth goes beyond just typical healthcare needs, too. There are several mental health and nonurgent health services that operate almost entirely within telehealth models, and many patients and their physicians can make full use of telemedicine and mHealth applications for more comprehensive care.
As telemedicine and mHealth services become an integral part of healthcare, it’s important to know how to use these solutions most effectively. Here are four ways to make telehealth sessions and mHealth services more effective (and efficient):
1. See what’s available.
Before using any telemedicine or mHealth technology, research what the healthcare provider offers. Not all physicians suggest videoconferencing visits, for instance. For some medical questions, the clinic might suggest just an email, a text, or a phone call. Telehealth sessions are similar to in-person visits, but they work best when patients don’t require physical exams.
Call your doctor’s office to see whether coming to the clinic is necessary. If the appointment can be completed online or via phone, know that you may need to get the proper technology set up first. Your doctor’s office may have recommendations for the technology you might need to connect.
2. Take clear pictures beforehand.
Describe your needs accurately before virtual doctor visits. Take pictures of anything that might help the doctor visualize your problem, describe what you’re experiencing, and write down any questions you have. Before you’re on the call, make sure you have all the information you need to explain what’s going on. The more information you can give, the better your doctor will be able to help.
3. Update your mHealth information.
Physicians can get much of the information they need from in-app mHealth data and online medical profiles. Work with your physician’s office to make sure these are updated — especially your current medications and any prescribed treatment plans. Additional mHealth data can give physicians valuable insight into other factors, such as heightened blood pressure or glucose levels.
Your doctor’s office might have an online portal or application that you can use to speak with your doctor, review medical records, or get prescription information. You can check with them to see what might be on your records to make sure everything is up to date.
4. Trust the doctors.
Patients should rest assured that any physician conducting a virtual doctor appointment is a licensed and experienced medical professional. As medical professionals share each other’s burdens during busy times, you might be speaking with a different doctor than usual. Fortunately, telehealth appointments are regulated to ensure treatment quality across the board and are all conducted under strict HIPAA compliance.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, telehealth has become the default for many providers and their patients. As demand overwhelms healthcare systems, telehealth platforms are useful for screening patients for symptoms and issue severity as well as for providing treatment or advice for non-life-threatening concerns. Now is the time for more than young patients to use telehealth resources — especially those whose health is most vulnerable.