Telehealth services promise to revolutionize the way healthcare is delivered and taken advantage of. Promising a far more indiscriminate approach to healthcare, they offer access to quality healthcare services regardless of location or mobility. As novel and exciting innovations continue to be made, telehealth is finally getting the attention it deserves – from both patients and providers alike.
Like all good things – telehealth is not without its limitations, of course. As a market that is still in its infancy and susceptible to technological advancements, it must be approached with caution.
So with many benefits for all, what does it truly take to offer such services, and what pitfalls do we need to be aware of?
What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth services are an umbrella term that covers a myriad of health-related services, which are administered or delivered remotely by way of communications technology.
One of the many ways the healthcare industry is revolutionizing itself, it promises to bring about substantial changes to the reach and frequency at which critical health care services and mental health programs are made available to the general public.
Much like many other cutting-edge technologies, including blockchain and AI, telehealth is a framework, and one which can be adopted in many different ways, bringing about benefits never before thought possible.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the different branches of telehealth services, with a particular emphasis on the advances that have been made in this regard thus far. We’ll explore some examples of telehealth at work, some top software and solutions, and how specific apps are currently helping providers deliver better services for patients.
Telehealth vs. Telemedicine
We mentioned earlier that ‘telehealth services’ is an umbrella term encompassing a number of health-related services.
To this end, you’ll likely hear discussions centered around at least five distinct services, including:
- Telehealth Nursing, or Telenursing
- Telehealth Physical Therapy, and
Each of these healthcare services draws on a set of tools that allows professionals to deliver assistance to their patients remotely, through different technologies and protocols. This will largely be dependent on the type of service being offered.
What’s The Difference?
The short answer is that telehealth and telemedicine are often synonymously used terms in the healthcare industry. The American Telemedicine Association, for instance, draws no distinction between the two, using both to refer to:
The delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all healthcare professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.
A Quick Overview
Whilst all telehealth services may also have different customer acquisition and retention strategies, the main idea is that all care is administered remotely through such use of technologies like video and voice calls, emails, and chat.
Existing application infrastructures, such as VoIP and Skype, might be used, however, some telehealth service providers are also developing their own custom applications.
Whilst the latter will have a much higher entry cost, they allow for a more customized and cohesive experience, which can improve overall patient satisfaction.
Either way, for telehealth services to be delivered effectively, patients need to have access to the technology being used, including a stable Internet connection.
5 Benefits of Telehealth
There are numerous advantages to telehealth, with the most obvious being its reach. Beyond this, offering remote virtual care can also help patients and providers in several other critical ways.
The table below gives a brief overview of just 5 of these benefits of telehealth services.
Lower Healthcare Costs
Less Perceived Stigma
A Look at the Disadvantages
Understanding the ramifications of remote health services is important since this is more likely than not to become the norm.
As technology and related applications continue to advance enough to make Telehealth services ever more economically and logistically viable, both professionals and patients need to agree on how the system will work.
Of course, as with any new technology, care must be taken to ensure that standards and legal requirements are met at all times.
3 Examples of Telehealth At Work
Different technological tools are helping professionals transition to a telehealth-based approach.
These include, but extend far beyond:
- Remote Monitoring Technologies
- E-clinics, and
- Patient Portals
Remote Monitoring Technologies
Remote monitoring technologies often refer to wearables, devices, home equipment, and compatible mobile apps that together, can help patients stay apprised of medical vitals. This category of telehealth services includes heart rate or glucose monitors, fitness trackers, blood pressure devices, and other specialized equipment.
These, in turn, may synchronize with mobile apps that upload and transmit data to a remotely-located healthcare institution, where professionals can analyze the statistics and better assess the well-being of patients.
E-clinics are healthcare practices operating partially, or exclusively online to deliver telehealth services to patients. As with brick-and-mortar clinics, e-clinics frequently offer a full range of essential services such as:
- Medical check-ups
- E-Prescriptions, and more.
Using blended care tools such as electronic health records (EHR), virtual consultation technology, online treatment plans, and remote monitoring equipment, e-clinics enable practitioners to diagnose, evaluate, and assist patients without the need for face-to-face interactions.
As such, users can get qualified and professional treatment from anywhere in the world – often in real-time.
With new innovations unveiled all the time for speech therapy, physical therapy, and beyond, telehealth is a rapidly advancing field of practice.
Unlike e-clinics, which are a more general and all-encompassing telehealth service, patient portals are another example of how telemedicine is changing the way we deliver healthcare.
Rather, patient portals are a common feature found within telehealth software, and give patients a place to access, update, and amend relevant information.
Within a patient portal, for instance, patients can often:
- Create, reschedule, or cancel medical appointments and therapy sessions
- Fill out relevant documentation to save time, such as therapy intake forms, contact information, and more
- Communicate with healthcare providers, and
- Access their patient information, such as reports on past visits, prescriptions, and more.
With many more telehealth specializations, these are just a few examples from a huge, and growing range of digital services. With new innovations unveiled all the time for speech therapy, physical therapy, and beyond, telehealth is a rapidly advancing field of practice.
Our Favorite 5 Softwares and Programs
Whether you’re a medical or mental health professional, there are many solutions that offer a host of integrated tools to get you started.
In this section, our favorite telehealth software – with a special focus on solutions that offer everything you’ll need for both practice management and client communications.
Web-based Doxy.me is a favorite among telepractitioners. Offering HIPAA-compliant videoconferencing, and designed in accordance with GDPR regulations, it offers a versatile range of communication options for clinicians and patients to interact.
With over half a million users, Doxy.me offers free versions for solo practitioners and is easy to use. Good for telemedicine or as a behavioral health system.
Client Communications, Video, Instant Messaging
Primarily a practice management program, TheraPlatform also offers a huge range of client communication channels, such as video chat.
Designed to help practitioners streamline office management, it can be used to simplify tasks like billing, scheduling, and more.
Client Communications, Practice Management, Scheduling, Billing, Reminders, Video
Approved by the American Psychiatric Association and compliant with HIPAA regulations, Amwell allows telemedicine practitioners to consult, prescribe, and create appointments digitally.
To use this platform, you must be a certified, licensed medical professional – it’s the largest telehealth provider in the U.S. and offers treatments for patients both with and without insurance coverage.
$85+ / consultation
Telemedicine, Telepsychology, Telepsychiatry, Video, Phone Calls
eVisit offers a wide selection of features that can enhance client communications. Instant messaging and patient ‘waiting rooms’ are supported for practitioners who want to conduct consultations or therapy online.
Mobile-compatible, it doesn’t offer a free trial version, but it does come with practice management functions such as billing capabilities and some insurance and health record features.
HIPAA-compliant and equipped with a patient portal, eVisit also supports e-prescriptions for telemedicine professionals.
Client Communications, Practice Management, Instant Messaging
Vsee’s telehealth services include client communication functionalities such as instant chat and HIPAA-compliant video sessions.
Simple to set up, it’s mobile-compatible and equipped with telehealth service essentials such as e-prescribing capabilities, billing functions, and more.
Top 3 Telehealth Technology Solutions
Above, we’ve already given a few examples of telehealth services in action.
But how about some other ways that telehealth technology solutions are helping patients and providers?
Let’s consider three examples of the most popular technologies, in turn, to answer that question:
- Mobile Apps
- Videoconferencing Technology, and
- Wearable Devices.
Mobile health – or mHealth – describes the use of smartphones and connected devices to deliver health, public education, and engagement services to patients and even casual users. With over 3 billion estimated global smartphone users, mobile apps are a highly convenient way for institutions to reach clients and they can play a huge range of functions.
At their most basic, mobile apps can serve as simple reminders for patients:
- Fitness software, for example, can send notifications to keep clients on track during the day, or
- SMS-based apps may message patients with a reminder to log their blood glucose levels.
More comprehensive and sophisticated solutions can entail entire treatment programs, in which consumers can do exercises, lessons, or record their experiences.
They may include video or chat room technology that allows clients to interface with counselors or doctors, as part of a larger mobile therapy solution.
When it comes to telehealth, mobile apps are a rapidly growing area with a diverse array of offerings, and thanks to its convenience and accessibility – they’re playing an increasingly larger part in virtual and blended care treatments.
As the name suggests, videoconferencing technology allows professionals to offer medical and mental health treatments to patients in real-time, while eliminating the need for travel or in-person interactions.
Using widely available technologies such as Skype and FaceTime, or video chat tech within behavioral health systems, they are often a cost-effective way for patients and practitioners to meet for:
- Between-session check-ups
- Mental health video therapy sessions
- Rehabilitation follow-ups, and more.
As a live – or synchronous – means of patient-provider communication, they allow users and professionals to interact in real-time, often making it possible for remote or busy clients to seek treatment where it would otherwise be unavailable.
Wearable devices include a whole spectrum of high-tech electronic solutions that collect patient data for medical or mental health purposes. Spanning everything from smartwatches and heart monitors to biosensor wristbands, their main purpose is to gather information for a more holistic overview of a patient’s well-being.
ECG monitors, as an example, measure electrocardiographic data on a patient’s heart activity, which can then be sent to a professional for analysis and use in ongoing treatment.
They, like many other wearable devices, are also a useful way to detect abnormalities and even keep track of physical activity for fitness purposes.
Best Telehealth Apps
If the idea of convenient, location-independent healthcare is something you’d like to look into, mobile apps are by far the most convenient place to start looking.
Here are a few apps that you can explore to discover more about the world of telehealth services, and what it has to offer.
Mend is one way for patients to connect with medical practitioners without the need for in-person sessions or consultations.
Using video conferencing, live chat, and a range of other in-app features, it’s possible to schedule and attend appointments remotely – as well as share important documents and healthcare-related information for virtual treatment.
HIPAA-compliant with a simple interface, practitioners can even use Mend’s intelligent technology to reduce no-shows and waiting times.
Videoconferencing, Consultations, Patient-Provider Communications
HealthTap is one way to receive telemedical care through video, audio calls, or text messaging.
While it offers an AI symptom-checker, HealthTap does provide US-based users in most states with access to board-certified practitioners with a very short wait time.
The app is compatible with a wide variety of devices and also offers the option of annual membership, so patients can use year-round telehealth services.
Telemedicine, Emergency Consultations,
Unlike the other apps we’ve looked at, ContinuousCare for Health is a way to virtually interact with your own existing healthcare professional.
Rather than logging in to search for a provider online, patients can request their doctors or practitioners create a Virtual Practice using ContinuousCare.
Once this is done, they can log in and book appointments, attend consultations, and make payments from their phone, rather than heading into the surgery for a face-to-face visit.
ContinuousCare for Health
Varies with practitioner
Telemedicine, Teletherapy, Provider-Practitioner Communications
Schedule consultations, talk to a professional, or receive an e-prescription from a professional doctor with Teladoc through this app, which connects you to state-licensed practitioners using video or audio channels.
There are no time limits for your sessions with this app, and prescriptions can be sent to a local pharmacy where appropriate.
Users simply set up an account in the app to get started, and can then schedule an appointment to connect with a practitioner and receive medical attention.
$59+ per visit
Telemedicine, e-Prescriptions, Emergency Consultations
With MDLIVE, patients can attend a virtual appointment with a board-certified doctor without leaving home, around the clock.
With a range of mental health as well as medical services to offer, the app allows you to schedule consultations and make last-minute appointments where required.
Some services you can access as a patient include treatment or consultation for addictions, panic disorder, depression, anxiety, as well as other issues that may be preventing you from leaving the house.
$75+ per visit
Telemedicine, Teletherapy, Emergency Consultations
Telehealth services have been around for quite a long time and will continue to be so, for years to come.
The advantages are clear for all and whilst they far outweigh the disadvantages we still need to keep an eye on them to ensure the scales do not tip the other way. As more healthcare professionals offer telehealth services, the quicker it will improve, as we gather more data and more experience.
This does not mean we should stop learning; indeed the only way we can ever make this a success is by embarking on a life-long quest of learning so that we can continue to improve everything we do.
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