Telehealth is defined as the delivery of health care services at a distance through the use of technology. It can include everything from conducting medical visits over the computer, to monitoring patients’ vital signs remotely. Its definition is broader than that of telemedicine, which only includes the remote delivery of health care.
Telehealth can be delivered in one of three ways:
Synchronous—when the doctor communicates with the patient in real time via computer or telephone
Asynchronous—when data, images, or messages are recorded to share with the doctor later
Remote patient monitoring—when measurements such as weight or blood pressure are sent to the health care provider
What you can do with telehealth
All of the following activities and services are possible with the help of telehealth:
Recording measurements like your weight, food intake, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels either manually, or through a wearable device, and sending them to your doctor.
Having a virtual visit with your doctor or a nurse over your computer or smartphone.
Using an online portal to check your test results, request prescription refills, send your doctor a message, or schedule an appointment.
Sharing information such as your test results, diagnoses, medications, and drug allergies with all of the providers you see.
Coordinating care between your primary care provider and any specialists you visit—including the sharing of exam notes and test results between medical offices in different locations.
Getting email or text reminders when you’re due for mammograms, colonoscopies, and other screenings, or routine vaccinations.
Monitoring older adults at home to make sure they are eating, sleeping, and taking their medications on schedule.
Downsides to telehealth
Telehealth offers a convenient and cost-effective way to see your doctor without having to leave your home, but it does have a few downsides.
It isn’t possible to do every type of visit remotely. You still have to go into the office for things like imaging tests and blood work, as well as for diagnoses that require a more hands-on approach.
The security of personal health data transmitted electronically is a concern.
While insurance companies are increasingly covering the cost of telehealth visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, some services may not be fully covered, leading to out-of-pocket costs.
In the future, remote monitoring of health data using wireless–enabled devices that measure a person’s weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, and heart rhythm could further advance telehealth’s promise.
“I imagine a world where we are continuously monitoring key health factors and using artificial intelligence to monitor those signals,” says Dr. Schwamm.
From a patient’s perspective, virtual visits save a lot of time. You don’t need to take time off work or other commitments to drive, park, and sit in a waiting room before your visit. And even though you’re not in the same room, you may actually get more direct eye contact with your physician, thanks to the face-to-face nature of video calling.
Another advantage: you may be able to have another person — such as a family member who lives across town or across the country — join the video call. That could be especially helpful if you’re facing an upcoming procedure or discussing a serious health concern. Just as with in-person visits, it’s nice to have another person listening, asking questions, and taking notes.
‘Though people living with a chronic condition have a vast range of experiences, our data show that the most common way they managed their condition between March and May 2020 was through telemedicine (45 percent). Only 8 percent had used it before… ‘
From 2019 to 2020, there was a substantial increase in the proportion of older adults who reported that their health care providers offered telehealth visits. In May 2019, 14% of older adults said that their health care providers offered telehealth visits, compared to 62% in June 2020.
Similarly, the percentage of older adults who had ever participated in a telehealth visit rose sharply from 4% in May 2019 to 30% in June 2020. Of those surveyed in 2020, 6% reported having a telehealth visit prior to March 2020, while 26% reported having a telehealth visit in the period from March to June 2020.
Over the past year, some concerns about telehealth visits decreased among adults age 50–80 whether or not they had a telehealth visit. Older adults’ concerns about privacy in telehealth visits decreased from 49% in May 2019 to 24% in June 2020, and concerns about having difficulty seeing or hearing health care providers in telehealth visits decreased from 39% in May 2019 to 25% in June 2020. Concerns about not feeling personally connected to the health care provider decreased slightly (49% to 45%).
UC Davis Health scientists Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi spent 15 years developing the world’s first total-body PET scanner, called EXPLORER. This imaging machine scans a patient’s entire body at one time, delivering breathtaking image quality that improves patient diagnoses and disease research.
Philips Virtual Care Station, inspired by the VA’s ATLAS program, is a community-based telehealth solution designed to expand access to high-quality care by connecting patients and providers remotely through a secure, clinical-grade environment.