Embracing Telehealth for the Long Run

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly caused major changes in our lifestyle. Early into the pandemic, traveling restrictions, lockdown, and social distancing were among the measures put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Easing of the COVID-19 restrictions brought forth a list of pre-pandemic activities we wanted to revert to; going to the office, celebrating weddings and graduations with friends, traveling across continents… the list goes on.

Our lifestyle seemed near-perfect before the pandemic. Living through the pandemic more than a year later, are there things we don’t want to revert to? Is there a silver lining in this pandemic?

For example, constantly disinfecting our work surfaces and washing our hands regularly are some changes we credit to COVID-19.

In the medical field, virtual care, also known as telehealth, stood out. It came in handy at a period when our hospitals and healthcare systems were strained. Telehealth, as defined by WHO, is the delivery of healthcare or the exchange of healthcare information using telecommunication technologies when participants are separated by distance.

Telehealth is often used interchangeably with telemedicine, but there is a little dissimilarity. Read about the difference here.

Evolution of Telehealth

Although the discovery of telehealth dates back to the 1960s, it has only become popular to many during the pandemic period. The evolution of telehealth has been gradual since its implementation was aligned with the advancement of technology. In the past, the major hindrance in its implementation was slow internet connection, costly equipment, and difficult equipment to use.

Decades later, technology is now more streamlined. The internet connection is faster and accessible to many, the equipment is not as costly and many households are enlightened on how to operate the equipment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically transformed the delivery of outpatient care in health centers. Statistics from the American Medical Association and Wellness Council of America show that nearly 75% of all clinical visits, including doctor, urgent care, and ER visits, are either unnecessary or could be handled safely and effectively over the phone or via video. Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Eric Williams, a cardiologist in Roanoke notes that patients with symptoms like chest pains and shortness of breath are afraid to go to the hospital for fear they might be infected.

One thing we should note, however, is that some hospitals had integrated virtual care into their system prior to the pandemic. Its popularity and implementation has only skyrocketed during the pandemic.

Types of telehealth technology

· Real time Audio-Video

Real time Audio-Video is the use of interactive audio/ video conferencing to facilitate real time interaction between patients and healthcare providers. Video enabled devices and telephone comes to mind when thinking of real-time telehealth technology.

Real time Audio-Video is especially convenient for patients battling heart diseases, diabetes, mental health, cancer, and addiction. Such patients are required to check in with their health providers frequently. Real time technology facilitates healthcare anywhere, anytime, regardless of distance.

· Remote patient monitoring (RPM)

Remote patient monitoring, sometimes called self-testing or self-monitoring utilizes wireless wearable electronic devices to collect patients’ health information. RPM devices include digital scales, smartwatches, blood pressure cuffs, and blood glucose monitors.

Healthcare providers use the health information gathered to monitor patients’ health remotely and intervene when the need arises. By learning how to use the RPM devices, patients can track their health and self-manage their condition.

· Store-and-forward

Also known as asynchronous telehealth, it is the oldest technique of telehealth technology. Store-and-forward telehealth refers to the transmission of health information; including images, from one healthcare provider to another, for third party analysis.

An example of how doctors employ this technique is when your doctor forwards your x-ray images to a radiologist for examination. This technique allows different departments in the hospital to work in sync to deliver excellent medical care to their patients’ timeously.

The Future is Now

What are the chances of telehealth being present in 50 years to come? 0.9 out of 1, I would say. For now, we are a little disoriented because it is relatively new to many. We cannot overlook the value of telehealth. It has promoted patient access to healthcare services, by eliminating the geographical barriers between the specialist and patients. It is also time and cost-efficient. Without a doubt, telehealth is one modification that we will carry with us into the post-pandemic world.

I write essays about mental health, relationships, love, self-awareness and personal growth. More info: loren@lorenawuor.com